Move to Amend | April-June, 2016


April – June 2016

Move to amend is a grassroots effort aimed at rejecting the 2010 Supreme Court ruling called Citizen’s United vs. the Federal Election Commission and related cases that have ruled that corporations are people and that money is speech.

The 2010 ruling was the culmination of Supreme Court rulings that give corporations more and more power to control the country (and the world) through political support and legal protections of their activities here and abroad.

Historically, corporations have been given a number of rights. Originally, governing bodies created corporations as a service to the people. Later, the rights were expanded because big businesses needed to raise large amounts of capital for expansion not only to provide services to a larger community but to compete in an expanded market place. Now, as the number and variety of stockholders have greatly increased, protection of their stockholders has become an important issue. Gradually, the courts have expanded corporate rights. They are now able to sue and be sued, and they were given certain protections that individuals have (i.e. right against self-incrimination, the right to own property and enter contracts, the right to express views on political policies, etc.) However, until the Citizen’s United ruling, corporations were prohibited from using money from their treasuries to support or oppose candidates in elections. Hoping to clarify this matter, Congress passed the bipartisan McCain-Feingold Act of 2002 which banned corporate funding of issue advocacy ads which mentioned candidates in a set period before elections. The personhood aspect of the campaign finance debate turns on Buckley v. Valeo (1976) which ruled that political spending by corporations is protected by the First Amendment right to free speech. The Citizens United decision in expanded this decision and opened up the flood of corporate political spending by making it clear that money is speech.

And, what a floodgate has opened to the point that corporation spending on elections is completely out of control. For example, as of April 8 this year, Super PACS ( organizations that have been formed only since Citizens United) totaled 2,259 groups with total receipts of more than $613 million and expenditures of $276 million plus. Adding to the problem, contributors to PACs can remain anonymous until after elections through delayed reporting rules. In addition, a large number of 501c4 organizations have been formed that find ways to pour tax free support from corporations and individuals into controversial legislation and causes. Finally, because of lax regulatory authority by the Federal Election Commission, sham corporations have been able to get around the campaign laws and reportedly have already channeled some $68 million into this political cycle. Many of these corporations are recognizable but many others are fake entities created to hide the identities of political donors.

Move to Amend was founded in 2009, shortly before the Supreme Court ruling. The organization has set forth a comprehensive list of the reasons that Citizens United should be overturned (see the attached guide to the highlights and low points of the Court’s Decision). Some of the more important things pointed out are: corporations are not “We the People” for whom the constitution was established, it favors large corporations over small ones, it erases the laws that distinguish between corporations and individuals, it allows an outpouring of negative advertising without accountability, and it allows corporations to act on the behalf of its stockholders without getting the ok of the stockholders.

In order to overturn the Citizen’s United ruling, Move to Amend is calling for an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This will require that both the House of Representatives and the Senate approve a joint resolution to approve the amendment by a two-thirds supermajority vote. Following approval, the amendment is sent to the states for ratification and three-fourths of the states must approve it within a specified period of time.

This California based organization has grown swiftly. It is attempting to gather support first from individuals and local organizations and then by getting support from larger political entities up to and including states. It is now a coalition of hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals. A number of organizations working for campaign finance reform and voters rights such as Public Citizen also provide strong support to Citizens United. So far, 5 states and nearly 300 municipalities have passed resolutions against corporate personhood. The affiliate groups include our own Fellowship which passed a resolution at the annual meeting 2 years ago.

What can you do to help in this important endeavor? First of all, I would suggest that you educate yourself about what is happening to our country because of the Citizens United ruling. What I have said here is just a brief summary. Much more information is available on the Move to Amend Website as well as from surfing the net on particular topics. You might also like to join a group that is working to inform the public and to promote political action both in local organizations and jurisdictions and state-wide. At this point the most active local group probably is the one at Fogartyville Arts and Media Center in Sarasota (contact Arlene Sweeting at 941-545-5635 or if you would like to get involved and for up-to-date information on what they are doing). Occupy Bradenton, which meets on Monday evenings at our Fellowship also is good source of information on what is going on. And, of course, you could work with others to put together a group here in Bradenton that will promote local action. Finally, just wear a Move to Amend pin. This draws attention and questions about what it means which is a good way to spread the word.

Al Usack

Social Justice Committee, Manatee UU Fellowship