Citizens United, the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations to contribute unlimited amounts of cash to political campaigns with virtually no disclosure requirements, has seemed to many like a slap in the face of the democratic process. But a growing movement called Move to Amend is fighting back.
"Citizens United is the straw that broke the camel's back," says Rachel Flug, organizer with Move to Amend's North Bay chapter. Move to Amend (MTA) aims to end corporate personhood through a 28th constitutional amendment, and recent resolutions against Citizens United by the Los Angeles and New York city councils, in addition to a ruling by the Montana Supreme Court, point to a movement that's gaining momentum.
"Corporations are not people, and money is not speech," says Abraham Entin before a group of about 30 people during a Saturday morning MTA planning meeting at the Santa Rosa Peace and Justice Center. "The people have the right to get money out of politics."
Entin's assertion echoes the proposed amendment, which decrees that both corporations and money be regulated. On Jan. 20, Move to Amend spearheads Occupy the Courts, a one-day "occupation" of 87 federal courthouses, including the U.S Supreme Court in Washington. The local chapter plans to join the San Francisco protest in front of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
"Martin Luther nailed his proclamation on the cathedral door," says Entin. "We're going to duct-tape our amendment to the courthouse door, since nobody uses wood anymore."
Since Citizens United, a proliferation of Super PACs has allowed unlimited donations from corporations and individuals. Restore Our Future, a Super PAC headed by a former Romney campaign official and funded by undisclosed donors, funneled at least $4.1 million into a television offensive against Newt Gingrich in the Iowa caucuses and virtually destroyed any chances of winning for the once-vociferous supporter of corporate campaign spending.
"Super PACS are a direct outgrowth of Citizens United," says David McCuan, associate professor of political science at Sonoma State University. He calls PACs "527s on steroids," referring to the tax-exempt organizations formed to influence elections.
McCuan argues that while it's nearly impossible to limit the amount of money that flows into politics, it is possible to increase transparency, disclosure and voter education. But he has little faith in change at the constitutional level. Amending the Constitution can be a difficult prospect (barring an Article V Convention applied for by 34 of the 50 states, two-thirds of each branch of Congress must approve the amendment, which has happened only 27 times in 11,372 attempts), and the chances of a Republican filibuster are virtually guaranteed.
"It'll be a cold day in hell before there's a constitutional amendment," adds McCuan. "It has to get a lot worse before you have the impetus. This is nonetheless an interesting Don Quixote moment in the body politic."
Some are finding other ways to challenge corporate personhood. On Jan. 4, assemblymembers Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa, and Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, introduced a resolution that calls for a reversal of the Citizens United ruling. Senators from Vermont and New Mexico have also introduced similar resolutions.
"It's totally tilted the ability for ordinary people to participate in politics in a meaningful way," says Allen by phone. "Basically, the decision has really eliminated the ability for local city councils and legislative bodies, and even Congress, to enact meaningful campaign-reform law."
Allen says that his resolution will make it clear that corporations do not have the same legal standing as "flesh and blood" human beings.
"Corporate personhood makes less sense in a global economy when corporations represent interests far beyond our borders," adds Allen. "You're giving them full citizenship, but they're not necessarily aligned with the interests of California or the rest of the United States."
Entin says that the resolutions do not go far enough.
"I think that they are trying to do the right thing, but Citizens United is a symptom of a disease called 'corporate personhood,'" he says. "Just treating the symptom still leaves you with the disease."
Entin says that the real work begins after Occupy the Courts, when they will begin accumulating signatures to get a resolution on the ballot—written in specific MTA language—in Sonoma County. Plans are in the works for a series of teach-ins, where the public will be invited to learn more about the amendment.
"We really want to spend our time talking to each other," says Entin. "People talking to people is what will make a change in this country."
Note: This article has been corrected to include the option for amending the Constitution via an Article V Convention by the states.