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Amend the Constitution to End “Corporate Personhood”

One year ago – on January 21, 2010 – the United States of America ceased being a “small ‘d’/small ‘r’” democratic republic.  It was on that date that the United State Supreme Court’s handed down its decision in a case called Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.  

The Citizens United case involved a group called “Citizens United Foundation” (a conservative, non-profit, political organization with ties to the “Swiftboat Veterans for Truth”) which had  produced a television documentary attacking then-presidential candidate Hilary Clinton.   The Clinton campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission.  The FEC,  relying on the McCain-Feingold federal campaign finance law,  barred the Citizens’ United Foundation from airing the documentary within 30 days of the 2008 Democratic primary elections.  

A federal lawsuit was filed by Citizens United, which lost at both the federal trial court level, and in the United States Court of Appeals.  Ultimately, however, the U.S. Supreme Court found in Citizens United’s favor, ruling that the provision of McCain-Feingold that barred corporations and unions from paying for political ads made independently of candidate campaigns, violated  Citizens United’s right to free speech under the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  

Armed with those new-found Constitutional rights, “artificial persons” – such as corporations and labor unions (which were never intended by the Founding Fathers to have Constitutional rights)  –  wasted no time pouring hundreds of millions of dollars (often from anonymous donors) into the American political process.  

Nationwide, those “artificial persons” spent more than $293 million dollars during the 2010 mid-term election cycle (compared to the $68.9 million spent  in 2006).  Most of that money was used to produce, and air, the unavoidable barrage of noxious, negative, political ads that we all suffered through last fall.

My state, Colorado, ranked second in the nation in 2010 with $23,719,955.84 in outside money poured into our federal election campaigns.  A full $15 million dollars was spent in the U.S. Senate race between  Michael Bennet and  Ken Buck; with an additional $4.63 million dollars being poured into Colorado’s three most contentious Congressional races (CD3 – $1.68 million; CD4 – $1.75 million; and CD7 – $1.18 million.   (Source:  Sunlight Foundation).

The effect of this deluge of mostly corporate cash is that we have a Congress that gives “lip service” to the interests of the American people, but, which votes in the interests of its big money donors.  

By way of example, during this last election cycle, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (a pro-business organization that, among other things, aggressively lobbies Congress for laws and federal regulations that make it easier for its members, mostly large multi-national corporations, to out-source American jobs) made over $75 million dollars in campaign donations, with most of that money going to Republicans, and business-friendly, conservative, “Blue Dog” Democrats.   Is it any surprise that those Republicans, and those “Blue Dog” Democrats, joined forces in the U.S. Senate to vote against, and kill, a bill that would have given tax breaks to American companies that bring out-sourced jobs back to the U.S.?  

This is a bipartisan problem.  In Colorado, we both get a Mike Coffman (R) –  who received $25,500 in Political Action Committees (PACs) donations from the energy industry – voting against  “cap and trade” bill; and an Ed Perlmutter (D) – who received $56,000 in PAC donations from the telecommunications industry – supporting the Comcast/NBC merger.  (Source: FEC Filings)  

I say that America has ceased to be a “small ‘d’/small ‘r’ democratic republic” because  the flood of outside money made possible by Citizens United makes a mockery of the quintessentially American ideal of “one person, one vote.”  When a PAC, with a handful of large checks, can donate enough money to sway a politician’s support on an important issue, the votes of individuals – like you, and like me, become next to meaningless.  

It is not “over the top” rhetoric to say that, as a result of Citizens United, America is faced with an existential crisis. In the short term, we need the Congress to pass legislation putting an end to anonymous political contributions.  That way, at the very least, we will know who, or what, is attempting to “buy” our elections.

In the long run, however, the only way to return political power to “We, the People,” will be to get all of the outside money out of politics.  And, the only way to get all of the outside money out of politics, will be amend the Constitution so that it states clearly, an unequivocally, that Rights recognized under the Constitution – including the rights to free speech  –  belong to human beings, only, and NOT to “artificial persons,” such as Corporations and Labor Unions.  

(I am on the Steering Committee for the Colorado chapter of Move to Amend.  (

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