How Cities and States are Sticking It to Citizens United

From courthouses to statehouses, the pro-corporate ruling is under pressure.
by Brooke Jarvis

The Supreme Court may have declared in Citizens United v. the FEC that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, but that doesn’t mean cities and states have to be happy about it.

They’re expressing their disagreement on an increasing number of battlegrounds, with Citizens United under challenge in courts, in city council meetings, in state legislatures, on ballots, and in the streets.
Dissension in the Courts

Some of the most interesting recent action has been in the courts, with lower courts—including a state Supreme Court and a federal appeals court—taking on Citizens United.

In Montana, the state Supreme Court upheld a longstanding law limiting corporate spending in politics. A lower court had held that Citizens United invalidated the Corrupt Practices Act, a law passed by citizens’ ballot initiative in 1912, when it was common practice for the copper industry to bribe state politicians. Unwilling to lose a basic, century-old protection against corruption, the state appealed the issue to the Montana Supreme Court, which on Dec. 30 allowed the law to stand.

For over 100 years, Montana has had an electoral system that preserves the integrity of the political process, encourages full participation, and safeguards against corruption,” said Attorney General Steve Bullock, who argued the state’s case. “The Supreme Court’s decision upholds that system and is truly a victory for all Montanans.”

The decision holds that Montana—for a host of reasons, from its history of corrupt industries to its thinly spread population—has a compelling interest in keeping the law. “If the statute has worked to preserve a degree of political and social autonomy, is the State required to throw away its protections?” asked Chief Justice Mike McGrath, writing for the majority.

Even Justice James C. Nelson, who dissented, did so regretfully. “While, as a member of this Court, I am bound to follow Citizens United, I do not have to agree with the Supreme Court’s decision,” he wrote. “And, to be absolutely clear, I do not agree with it.”

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals took a similar stand when, in late December, it upheld a 2006 New York City law that, among other things, bans lobbyists from giving gifts to City officials and requires them to disclose all fundraising and consulting activities. A group of plaintiffs challenging the law hoped it would be invalidated under Citizens United; the court dismissed their lawsuit, upholding the City’s right to put limits on political contributions and prevent “pay-to-play” schemes.

Judge Guido Calabresi, in a concurring opinion, explained his reasoning for maintaining limits on corporate lobbying: “If an external factor, such as wealth, allows some individuals to communicate their political views too powerfully, then persons who lack wealth may, for all intents and purposes, be excluded from the democratic dialogue.”
From Cities and States to the U.S. Constitution

Though lower courts can take stands against it, the Supreme Court’s ruling—that money is constitutionally protected free speech and that corporations are legal persons entitled to such protections—is final. If the Montana and New York City cases are appealed to the Supreme Court, the lower court rulings are likely to be reversed; Montana and New York City would quickly see the end of their hard-won protections.

That’s why the New York City Council on Wednesday joined a group of other cities (including Los Angeles, Boulder, Albany, Oakland, and Madison) in asking Congress to pass a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. The resolution declares support for an amendment saying “that corporations are not entitled to the entirety of protections or ‘rights’ of natural persons, specifically so that the expenditure of corporate money to influence the electoral process is no longer a form of constitutionally protected speech.”

The same day, California lawmakers introduced a similar resolution in the state legislature.

Meanwhile, activists are gearing up for the upcoming 2-year anniversary of the ruling, planning rallies on the steps of the Supreme Court and federal courthouses across the country.

It won’t be easy to stop big money from undermining our democracy. But momentum is building. The desire for a functioning democracy, writes Judge Calabresi in his concurring opinion for the 2nd Circuit, “is, I believe, something that is so fundamental that sooner or later it is going to be recognized. Whether this will happen through a constitutional amendment or through changes in Supreme Court doctrine, I do not know. But it will happen.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License

Brooke Jarvis wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Brooke is YES! Magazine's web editor.

Time for a Real Debate: Are Corporations People?

by Robert Hinkley

"Corporations are people, my friend... of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to the people. Where do you think it goes? Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People's pockets. Human beings my friend."—Mitt Romney

It’s true that corporations have no ability to act for themselves. They only act through people; their officers, directors, employees, lawyers and agents. However, the important question to ask is “do corporations behave like people?” Because if they don’t behave like people, our nation faces a serious problem it wasn’t designed to handle.

Our form of government was created in 1788 with the adoption of the US Constitution. This was a time when there were only a handful of corporations in existence (and none of the modern variety which have no obligations to protect the public interest). As a consequence, there is no mention anywhere in the Constitution of the word corporation.

This means that our government governs people and corporations the same way—through the passage of laws enacted by our elected representatives. Until such laws are passed, both people and corporations can harm the environment and other elements of the public interest to the extent they have the capacity and inclination to do so. Sometimes the passage of effective new laws can take a very long time. Sometimes such laws never get passed.

The public interest is exposed while our leaders decide what should be done. However, people are unlikely to take advantage of this situation. They generally have little capacity or inclination to engage in behavior that harms the public interest. Modern corporations, on the other hand, have plenty of both.

Protection of the public interest in our democracy depends upon citizenship. It depends on citizens voluntarily stopping behavior that is harming the public interest even when no law prohibits it. When good citizens realize they are harming the public interest, they stop. They don’t wait for the law to make them stop. They don’t lobby to keep the law from making them stop. They simply stop.

People generally stop. Modern corporations too often do not.

While companies don’t start out with the intention of plundering the public interest, it sometimes becomes evident that their now successful business is doing great harm. This is when their citizenship is tested. Almost universally, companies fail this test when large amounts of money are at stake.

When it becomes evident a citizen is harming the public interest, he, she or it has two options: recognize the obligations of citizenship and stop (the citizenship option) or take advantage of the rights of citizenship and get involved in the legislative process to delay or frustrate the passage of new laws which will prohibit their destructive behavior (the political option). Most human beings choose the former. Corporations choose the latter.

There are several reasons why people choose the good citizen option and corporations choose the political option. Most have to do with the differences between people and corporations. People generally develop a sense of right and wrong. None of us has a compelling need to harm the public interest. Corporations, on the other hand, have no conscience. The people that work for them do, but they have to follow rules that rarely result in a collective conscience. Moreover, at times companies have a compelling need to harm the public interest—when future profits and/or their survival depend upon it.

Lots of people are saying our government is broken. A huge reason for this is they see that government is unable to protect the public interest from corporate anti-social behavior.

Because our Constitution contains no special provisions for the government of corporations, protection of the public interest depends upon corporate citizenship just as it does on individual citizenship. Indeed, it depends on corporate citizenship more. A big corporation has the capacity to do more harm to the public interest in one afternoon legally than the average human being can do in a lifetime.

In the case of modern corporations with huge amounts of money invested in factories, processes and products that harm the public interest, that citizenship is not present. The reason for this has to do with state corporate laws that say, so long as corporations are operating in accordance with existing laws, corporate directors must act in the best interests of the corporation and its shareholders.

These laws encourage corporate managers to continue harming the public interest in the pursuit of their company’s own interest (profit and survival). It’s time to start thinking about changing these laws. The law should balance the duty of directors to act in the company’s best interest with safeguards that will ensure protection of the environment and other elements of the public interest.

In Iowa Mitt Romney argued that “Corporations are people.” New Hampshire is the next stop on the trail to selecting a GOP nominee for president. Two debates are scheduled between now and primary day; one Saturday hosted by New Hampshire's ABC affiliate WMUR and the other Sunday morning, a joint effort by Facebook and NBC's 'Meet The Press'. Isn’t it time all the candidates for president from both parties were asked whether they too believe corporations people?

Robert C. Hinkley is a former corporate law partner in two of America’s largest law firms. He is also the originator of the Code for Corporate Citizenship, a 28 word modification in the corporate law to the duty of directors designed to improve corporate behavior. His recently released book: Time to Change Corporations: Closing the Citizenship Gap, can be purchased through where it is available both in paperback and for Kindle users as well.

MT Upholds Ban on Corporate Electioneering

by Jeff Milchen

On December 30, the Montana Supreme Court issued a stunning ruling, rejecting arguments that the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Citizens United vs. FEC applied to Montana’s century-old ban on direct corporate election spending. The 5-2 ruling overturned a lower court and reinstated Montana's Corrupt Practices Act, a citizen initiative passed to confront some of the most overt corporate corruption in American history.

While the Montana ruling detailed several ways in which the Corrupt Practices Act differed from the federal statute struck down in Citizens United, the justices clearly rejected much of the U.S. Supreme Court's rationale. Citizens United struck down a federal law that prohibited corporations from directly spending company funds to advocate for or against political candidates.

One key distinction in Montana's case was that the state presented extensive evidence of actual corruption, which the U.S. Supreme Court found lacking in Citizens United. And while Citizens United did not address nonpartisan and judicial elections, Montana's law protects the very justices who decided the case from being intimidated or corrupted.

Of course, money drowning out the voice of citizens can happen in almost any election now, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court bestowing Bill of Rights protections upon corporations - entities never mentioned in our Constitution. Justice Kennedy's majority opinion in Citizens United also asserted that "independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption," a view rejected by the Montana Justices.

That astounding claim promptly birthed super PACs, which can accept unlimited donations to support their favored candidate and attack his or her opponents. Fittingly, an obvious victim of super PACs in the current presidential primaries is Newt Gingrich, who previously hailed Citizens United as a "great victory for free speech."

In November and early December, Gingrich sat atop Republican primary polls. Then, in December, he was slammed by about $4 million worth of negative ads by Restore Our Future, an "independent" super PAC controlled by Mitt Romney supporters, including his 2008 campaign director.

The ad blitz drove down Gingrich's poll numbers immediately, and he finished a distant fourth in the Iowa Caucus, won by Romney.

All of the Republican contenders have such PACs working on their behalf. By the time the public knows the people or corporations behind the super PAC attacks, four primaries will be complete and the winner may be apparent. According to the U.S. Supreme Court's reasoning, the investments of PAC donors will earn them no influence with Romney.

Perhaps the presidential primaries will further alter the battle lines for campaign finance disputes. Bob Brown, a Republican fixture who served in Montana's legislature and as Secretary of State, provided testimony arguing the ban on corporate spending was necessary to preserve political integrity.

Montana's history of blatant corruption persuaded even the state ACLU Foundation to file a brief defending the Corrupt Practices Act. The move startled election law followers, because the ACLU called (pdf) the similar federal law "suppression of core political speech" in Citizens United and has challenged election spending limits for decades. (The national ACLU has not yet altered its advocacy for "corporate free speech.")

Independent business owners are another nontraditional ally for reformers that spoke out to uphold Montana's corporate spending ban, both individually and working with the American Independent Business Alliance. Small businesses increasingly recognize they lose out when large corporations are permitted to translate their wealth into political power that yields tax loopholes, subsidies and other preferential treatment.

The Montana Court's rebuke of Citizens United was a legal first, but could be considered part of a broader public uprising. Los Angeles and New York City top a growing list of cities to formally call for a constitutional amendment to explicitly state that Bill of Rights protections apply to human beings, not corporations. Dozens more communities now are organizing to advance such an amendment, with national support from groups like Move to Amend and Free Speech for People.

Of course, one island of relatively uncorrupted elections does little for California or the rest of our country. The Montana ruling is cause for celebration, but its value can only be realized if other states and courts follow. An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is likely and, without far more visible public advocacy for the democratic republic promised by our Constitution, the Roberts court is unlikely to veer from its agenda of steadily enlarging corporate privilege.

Let's not forget that the Supreme Court is a political institution that responds to sufficiently broad and deep expressions of public opinion, as it did previously with many civil rights concerns. We can't wait in hope of more enlightened justices -- we must make the current ones see the light.

AMIBA was party to amicus curiae briefs in both Citizens United v FEC and Western Tradition Partnership v Montana. For more on why independent business advocates are engaged, see Granting Corporations Bill of Rights Protections Is Not "Pro-business."

A version of this was first published in the Thursday, January 12, 2012 print edition of the San Francisco Chronicle

Jeff Milchen is a co-founder of the American Independent Business Alliance, which helps communities develop effective buy local/independent campaigns and many other pro-local initiatives.

What if 'Citizens United' Actually United the Citizens?

by Ilyse Hogue

After a long, dark period of stagnant progressive momentum and pay-to-play politics, this week saw a flurry of progressive victories that could upset the conventional wisdom about a post–Citizens United world.

This morning’s announcement by Harry Reid that the Senate is postponing the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) vote would have been almost unimaginable as recently as a week ago, when PIPA and its House counterpart, SOPA (the Stop On-line Piracy Act), were considered done deals. Only a handful of disgruntled geeks stood in the way of an industry power grab that would have blessed online censorship and stifled innovation. But the bills’ promoters failed to anticipate the power of “Blackout Wednesday” to popularize the outrage. Suddenly, it wasn’t just geeks. Congress started fielding calls from people unable to sell couches on Craigslist and harried parents of students desperate to consult Wikipedia for school papers. Thus sounded the death knell for the bills.

While the tactical decision to pull down popular sites in protest of these bills were tailored to the Internet blackout bills, the other two major victories this week—the rejection of the massive Keystone oil pipeline and the submission of 1.9 million signatures to recall union-busting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker—were also made possible by fusing old-school community organizing with innovative netroots strategies.

Going into the week, news was dominated by the proliferation of political ads in early primary states, many of which would have been illegal prior to Citizens United. There is no denying that decision’s impact, on almost every issue: spending legalized by the Citizens United decision was partly responsible for the Walker victory in 2010, and moving forward Citizens United–enabled ads will be full of messages about Obama’s rejection of Keystone. Progressives have continually highlighted the ruling as a low point in a campaign world that comes with a multimillion-dollar entry fee. It’s true that experts warn that the proliferation of ads could result in voter disengagement.

But what if the net result of Citizens United is a realization by progressive groups that financial competition is futile, one that prompts altered strategies that play to progressive strengths? In the two years after the Citizens United decision, we've seen a renewed commitment to deep organizing and innovative rapid response that is threatening corporate-backed electeds and industry-promoted legislation alike.

Take the Internet censorship bills: the smug overreach of these industry-backed bills united both poles of the political spectrum and new media companies in an unprecedented wave of online activism that turned the tide and left both bills gasping for life on the eve of their vote. Google, a leading industry opponent, launched its first ever online petition, a move that netted it a staggering 7 million signatures. Websites as far-ranging as Wikipedia and I Can Haz Cheezburger? went dark on Wednesday to protest the infringement on their rights. Users expecting to laugh at cats instead learned of the imminent threat, and these collective actions popularized the outrage.

The same day, the president announced his decision to comply with a State Department recommendation to reject the Keystone Pipeline. The pipeline—replete with catastrophic climate impacts and powerless to deliver the jobs its promoters promised—was all but signed when a small band of committed climate activists mounted a week of direct action at the White House last summer. As the civil disobedience peaked, groups quickly followed up with sustained organizing of Obama volunteers and donors, who publicly committed to withhold re-election support if the pipeline was approved. In the final tally, there were over 1000 arrests, more than one million petition signatures and public statements flooded the White House, and close to 40,000 calls were made to Congress opposing the pipeline in one day.

And finally, on Tuesday of this week, a Wisconsin effort announced it had submitted 1.9 million signatures to recall corporate darling Governor Scott Walker—more than three times the number required to get the recall on the ballot. The Wisconsin recall effort is a similar story of block-by-block organizing coordinated with savvy online work that solidified new alliances and resulted in close to half of eligible Wisconsin voters asking for the chance to recall Walker. Walker won just over a year ago with 52.3 percent of the vote in the most expensive race in the state’s history. A whopping $37.4 million dollars were spent in that election on television advertising. And yet a committed grassroots operation not only could reverse that decision but has a nervous state government so committed to accountability in the recall proceedings, they are using a webcam to give voters access to every move they make in counting the signatures.

Now, no one is arguing money doesn’t matter and political ads are on their way out. Already, $12 million have been spent on ads in the lead up to the South Carolina primary. That's an estimated 25,000 ads in the span of a few weeks for a state with a total population of 4.5 million. This mirrors the Iowa caucus, where people complained of being hit from every angle with political ads. These primaries follow a 2010 election cycle that tested the new Citizens United ruling allowing unlimited spending by outside parties on behalf of a candidate in political races. The undeniable result of Citizens United has been more ads, by less identifiable players, with a much uglier tone. It should be overturned.

What we do know, though, is that the ads make most Americans crave more limits on election spending. A new CBS poll out yesterday showed majority of Republicans, Democrats and Independents favor limits on how much both how much individuals can give to candidates and how much outside groups can spend on ads. A total of 67 percent of respondents said outside spending should be limited, while less than a third favored the current system. A different poll shows that two-thirds of small-business owners believe the Citizens United decision hurts their interests.

What’s now also coming into focus is that the influx of such huge sums of money has forced smaller groups to re-evaluate their own reliance on a saturated media market to deliver a message, and catalyzed new investment in breakthrough organizing. The popular momentum we saw this week behind such campaigns may well be evidence that instead of disengaging in a post–Citizens United world, voters jump at concrete opportunities to flex their power. While I won't claim a triumph for people-powered movements quite yet, the last week has been a great indicator that frustration is turning to action in ways that could yet prove game-changing.

You can access all of The Nation's coverage of Citizens United by clicking here:
Copyright © 2012 The Nation

Ilyse Hogue writes about politics, movements, new economies, culture and on a good day, the nexus of the four.

What Citizens Can Do to Fight Citizens United

by Dave Zweifel

One of the most asked questions in my email inbox is what can the people do to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision that declared corporations people and opened the floodgates to unlimited campaign spending.

The only answer, of course, is an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would require passage by two-thirds of both houses of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the states, a process that would face extremely tough sledding in today’s toxic political environment. (Can you imagine the U.S. Senate filibustering over this one?)

But the national citizens’ lobby and nonpartisan government watchdog, Common Cause, believes that the politicians will pay heed if enough American people make it clear they want this abominable and reckless decision overturned.

Citizens United has been blamed for the historic spending by corporations and other special interests in the current Republican presidential primaries, with predictions that spending will escalate come the general election this fall. It was the decision about which Justice Samuel Alito mouthed “not true” in response to President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union prediction that this would happen. It turns out that it was Alito who didn’t know what he was talking about.

In an attempt to underscore just how upset Americans are with the Supreme Court decision, Common Cause has launched a 50-state drive to give voters a voice to push back.

“A huge majority of Americans reject Citizens United and want a government of, by and for the people, not of, bought and paid for by the special interests,” remarked Robert Reich, chairman of Common Cause’s National Governing Board. “This campaign will help people make their voices heard at the ballot box, where the elected officials who must pass an amendment ignore them at their own peril.”

What Common Cause plans to do is to get every state to include a question on its November ballot that would instruct Congress to adopt a constitutional amendment to make it clear that corporations are not people and to authorize campaign spending limits.

“Most Americans are appalled by how big corporations and other special interests have hijacked our government and drowned out our voices by pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into campaigns from the courthouse to the White House,” Reich added. “It’s time to restore common sense to our elections and democracy.”

Here in Wisconsin, Common Cause director Jay Heck said that the state group will definitely take part in the national effort and push to place a statewide advisory referendum on the ballot. Common Cause-Wisconsin was to meet this week to decide the strategy on how to get it done.

If Common Cause can get enough states to take part, the message it sends to Congress could be enormous. And that’s exactly what’s needed before our democratic system gets completely hijacked by the special interests that already control all too much of our government.

© 2012 The Cap Times

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times.

Citizens United Revisited? Buckle Up, Chief Justice Roberts

by Josh Silver

On Friday night, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Montana Supreme Court's December, 2011 decision upholding the state's century-old ban on corporate political spending. The implications of this are huge, as it paves the way for a potential re-opening of the disastrous Citizens United decision that has spawned billionaire-sponsored super PACs. And if that happens, Chief Justice John Roberts better buckle up for a grassroots mobilization unlike any the court has seen in years.

Friday's decision was in response to a request by the American Tradition Partnership (ATP) to reverse the Montana ruling. ATP -- a conservative group that that says it fights "the radical environmentalist agenda" -- has six weeks to formally ask the Supreme Court to review the case. If they don't, the Montana ban on corporate spending will stand.

Since the Citizens United ruling over two years ago, millions of dollars have flowed from the super-rich and corporations to elect or defeat candidates. A handful of billionaires have manipulated election outcomes in a matter of days, buying vicious ads through super PACs that candidates pretend are independent from their own campaigns -- while their former colleagues and pals run those PACs. As Ari Berman reported in The Huffington Post, some 196 individual donors have provided nearly 80 percent of the money raised by super PACs in 2011 by giving $100,000 or more each. Secret donors using 501C4's have purchased 40 percent of total GOP primary ads with no disclosure of who is signing the checks.

The Supreme Court justified Citizens United by ruling that super PACs do not allow corruption or the appearance of corruption. Webster's dictionary defines corruption: "Impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle, inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means (as bribery); a departure from the original or from what is pure or correct."

If our current campaign finance system isn't corrupt, what is? A handful of billionaires can decide who the next president will be. If our Supreme Court doesn't find that corrupt, or at least creating the appearance of corruption, then they are using a very different dictionary than the rest of America; one shape-shifted solely to consolidate power into the hands of the super-rich, the rest of us be damned.

From Occupy on the left to the Tea Party on the right, conservatives and liberals agree that crony capitalism is out of control, and is central to our nations myriad problems: banking, energy, jobs, health care... you name it. The people are mad as hell, and they're not going to take it any more.

And if the court takes up Citizens United again, you can be sure the American people won't sit quietly with their hands folded while the high court deliberates. They're going to shake the bars of the prison that our democracy has become, and demand a ruling that protects ordinary people, not plutocrats.

Josh Silver is the CEO of United Republic, a national nonpartisan organization challenging the undue influence of big money special interests in American politics. Prior to that, Josh was the Executive Director of Free Press a national, nonpartisan organization that he co-founded with Robert McChesney and John Nichols in 2002 to engage citizens in media policy debates and create a more democratic and diverse media system.

A Super Tuesday as Vermont Pushed to Overturn Citizens United

by Aquene Freechild

The people have spoken, loud and clear. Super Tuesday showed us that momentum is growing rapidly for a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which opened the floodgates of corporate cash in our elections. Tens of thousands of Vermonters sent a message through town meeting ballot initiatives and floor votes that democracy and constitutional rights are for people and that Congress should have the right to limit election spending.

At least 56 cities and towns in Vermont voted nearly unanimously Tuesday on local resolutions challenging corporate personhood. The resolutions called on the Vermont Legislature and congressional delegation to support a constitutional amendment that clarifies that money is not speech and corporations are not people. (For a complete list, visit The effort – coordinated by Public Citizen, in partnership with Move to Amend/Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, VPIRG, Vermont Peace and Justice Center, Common Cause and many other groups – shows that voters are attuned to the corrosive effects of money and politics, as well as corporate power in our democracy, and they are demanding it end.

Support for the resolution cut across party lines. Six towns in Republican districts and 13 cities and towns that have sent both Democrats and Republicans to the state Legislature voted for the resolution by wide margins. This bipartisan opposition to the Citizens United ruling mirrors several nationwide polls on the issue.

We expect similar demonstrations of support throughout the country in the coming months. Today, Public Citizen is launching Resolutions Week (, a campaign to get as many local pro-amendment resolutions passed as possible in the second week of June. Already more than 500 Public Citizen activists in 300 cities and towns have signed up to help pass resolutions in their towns. Public Citizen is coordinating the effort with a number of other groups, including the Communications Workers of America, U.S. PIRG, Main Street Alliance, the Move to Amend coalition and People For the American Way.

Aquene Freechild is Senior Organizer for Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People Campaign

State Support for Overturning Citizens United Is Growing

June 14, 2012
4:57 PM

CONTACT: Public Citizen
Phone: 202-588-1000

State Support for Overturning Citizens United Is Growing
Following Local Lead, More States Are Considering Calling for a Constitutional Amendment to End Unlimited Corporate Spending in Elections

WASHINGTON - June 14 - State measures calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission are moving through legislatures in California, New Jersey and North Carolina this week, underscoring the growing momentum to curb corporate influence over elections. In addition, a majority of Connecticut lawmakers have signed on to a letter supporting an amendment.

The movement comes during Resolutions Week, a push by Public Citizen and partner organizations to pass local resolutions nationwide that call for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. As thousands of activists have answered the call, state legislative bodies also are acting to support an amendment.

Already, resolutions supporting an amendment have been passed in four states: Hawaii, New Mexico, Vermont and Rhode Island. In Maryland, a majority of lawmakers have signed a letter in support of an amendment.

California appears to be the next state that will back an amendment. A resolution was approved by the full Assembly in March and this week passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. A full Senate vote – the final step to passage – will be held next Thursday. The Massachusetts Legislature also is considering a resolution, and its passage is anticipated by the end of the state legislative session in July.

“These state efforts show how people can reclaim the people’s rights by pursuing a constitutional amendment to ensure our democracy isn’t for sale,” said Mark Hays, campaign coordinator for Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign. “They are pulling out all the stops to make it clear that democracy should be for people, not corporations and superwealthy political donors.”

In New Jersey today, activists rallied outside the statehouse in advance of a hearing in the SenateState Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee on SR47, which calls for overturning Citizens United via an amendment. They also urged assemblymembers to advance a concurrent bill, AR 86, which does the same.

And in North Carolina, dozens of activists and advocates gathered Wednesday at the State Capitol in Raleigh to show support two concurrent resolutions – H1201 and S937– which also would call for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. State Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange County) spoke at the press conference, and was joined by speakers from the North Carolina AFL-CIO and NC NAACP. The North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections, which represents 40 statewide organizations working for fairer election laws, organized the event.

These resolutions come in the wake of strong local support for an amendment:

219 local resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment have passed nationwide in the wake of the Citizens United decision. Since Public Citizen launched its Resolutions Week effort, resolutions have been passed at a rate of approximately one a day;
More than 100 members of Congress have backed a constitutional amendment, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. President Barack Obama also has voiced support for a constitutional amendment;
At least 85 national organizations have called for a constitutional amendment, 17 of which are helping to organize Resolutions Week; and
Petitions calling for a constitutional amendment have garnered more than 1 million signatures. Public Citizen’s petition alone has more than 100,000 signatures.


Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

Public Citizen Links:

It's Official: SCOTUS Puts Our Democracy For Sale to Highest Bid

June 25, 2012
12:22 PM

CONTACT: Common Cause
Mary Boyle

High Court's Flip Dismissal of Montana Ban on Corporate Political Spending Shows Need for Fast Citizen Action on Constitutional Amendment

Common Cause calls on voters to "Stand with Montanans" and join a populist rebellion to overturn Citizens United

WASHINGTON - June 25 - By summarily rejecting Montana’s law banning corporate political spending, the Supreme Court has turned a blind eye to political corruption and the tsunami of special interest money flooding into this year’s national elections, Common Cause said today.

“The Court’s arrogant move – refusing to even grant a hearing on a Montana law that has served the state well for a century – underscores the need for quick action on a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and allow sensible restrictions on political spending,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar.

“The Court’s majority has once again chosen ideology over common sense and left American voters defenseless against the forced sale of our elections to big corporations and billionaires,” Edgar added.

The fight to save democracy now moves to the ballot box, with Montana on the front lines of a national populist rebellion. Common Cause and Free Speech for People have teamed up to launch “Stand With Montanans,” a campaign for a ballot initiative that would let Montana voters instruct their members of Congress to support and vote for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, establish that corporations are not people, and authorize limits on political spending.

Similar “voter instruction” efforts are underway in Colorado, Salt Lake City, Massachusetts and other cities across the country. The campaign comes on the heels of passage of similar measures by four states and 288 cities and towns calling on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment.

“Putting Citizens United on the ballot in battleground states this fall gives voters a powerful way to make their voices heard now and puts presidential and congressional candidates on notice that Americans are fed up with Supreme Court rulings that have turned our elections into auctions,” Edgar said.

Common Cause had hoped that a majority on the high court would grant a full hearing on the Montana law banning corporate political spending and a Montana Supreme Court decision upholding that law. Instead, the justices in a 5-4 vote refused to even set the case for argument, simply rubber-stamping their ruling in Citizens United without considering the facts about the impact of unlimited corporate spending on corruption and the ability of Americans to make their voices heard.

“Thanks to the Roberts Court, this year’s campaigns for offices from the courthouse to the White House will be driven by hundreds of millions of dollars in negative political ads, financed by Super PACs and other supposedly ’independent’ donors whose identities will remain mostly shielded from the voters,” Edgar said. “But the winning candidates likely will know exactly where that money came from, and the people and companies providing it will come calling for legislation, government contracts and all manner of other favors in payment for their support.”

In his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer agreed. “Thus, Montana’s experience, like considerable experience elsewhere since the Court’s decision in Citizens United, casts grave doubt on the Court’s supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so,” Breyer wrote.

Common Cause was among 14 national organizations that joined in a “friend of the court” brief filed by the Campaign Legal Center urging the justices to uphold the Montana law and reverse Citizens United.

Edgar said today’s action strengthens the case that Common Cause and other organizations are making that, given the Court’s current rigid stance, a constitutional amendment is needed to authorize campaign spending limits and declare that corporations do not enjoy the same rights as people when it comes to spending money in politics.

Legislatures in four states – Hawaii, California, New Mexico and Rhode Island – have passed resolutions supporting an amendment and the corporate political spending restrictions it would permit. Massachusetts and California are also considering it. In Montana, a campaign called “Stand with Montanans” is circulating petitions to put a measure on the November ballot that would allow that state’s voters to instruct their representatives in Congress to support an amendment.

Common Cause has launched a national effort, Amend 2012, to encourage other states and localities to send similar instructions to their representatives. Voter instructions have been used repeatedly in American history to spur changes in the Constitution.


Common Cause is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1970 by John Gardner as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the public interest.

Common Cause Links:

Chicago Council Asks Consti. Amendment to Kill Citizens United

July 26, 2012
1:28 PM

CONTACT: Common Cause
Mary Boyle

Chicago City Council Stands Up to U.S. Supreme Court; Calls on Congress to Pass Constitutional Amendment to Reverse Citizens United v. FEC

CHICAGO - July 26 - Just weeks after the Supreme Court dealt a blow to campaign finance reform efforts in Montana, the Chicago City Council fought back Wednesday with passage of a resolution calling on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment that would reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which swept away a century of precedent limiting corporate spending on elections.

"I'm proud of our City. With our vote today, the City of Chicago City Council joined a growing chorus of cities and towns across America who have raised their collective voice against the corrosive effect of corporate money on our democratic process,” said Alderman Joe Moore. “As the elected officials closest to the people, we've witnessed firsthand the devastating impact on our communities of federal spending and tax policies driven by the wealthy few at the expense of the many. These policies exist because the wealthy and powerful dominate the debate and drown out opposing views. It is time we restore our democracy to the people."

The drive to pass the city council resolution was led by Common Cause, Illinois PIRG, MoveOn, Move to Amend and Public Citizen’s Democracy is for People Campaign. These organizations worked together with Alderman Joe Moore, who championed the effort in City Council. The resolution received 38 initial co-sponsors and was passed unanimously.

“Chicago’s passage of this resolution shows that, regardless of what the activist Supreme Court does, we will not stand by and lose our democracy,” said Rey Lopez-Calderon, executive director of Common Cause Illinois. “We will not be slaves, in the classical sense – we will not be people governed by plutocrats. We will be free people. A major city like Chicago, making a statement like this, sends a strong message that will be heard all the way to the halls of Congress.”

Public support leading up to the vote on the resolution was widespread. Over 100 constituents showed up to a public hearing on the resolution prior to today’s vote. At that hearing, the standing-room only crowd applauded as organizational representatives and average citizens testified in favor of the measure.

“Citizens United is a radical strike against the foundation of our democracy,” said Lyle Hyde, activist and local spokesperson for Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People Campaign. Noting that Citizens United is unprecedented historically, Hyde further stated that “We can only overcome the power of unlimited big money to corrupt our elections and our government through a constitutional amendment.”

Chicago joins more than 280 other cities and 6 states across the country in denouncing Citizens United and calling for a constitutional amendment.

In November, Chicago voters will also be able to voice their support for a constitutional amendment through a ballot measure that was referred to voters by the City Council when today’s resolution was originally introduced.


Common Cause is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization founded in 1970 by John Gardner as a vehicle for citizens to make their voices heard in the political process and to hold their elected leaders accountable to the public interest.

Common Cause Links:

Mass. Calls for Consti. Amendment To Overturn Citizens United

August 1, 2012
2:10 PM

CONTACT: Public Citizen
Phone: 202-588-1000

Massachusetts Becomes Seventh State to Call for a Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Citizens United
Massachusetts Legislature Approves Resolution, Calls for Curbing Corporate Power Over Elections

WASHINGTON - August 1 - Massachusetts is now the seventh state to stand up against the corporate takeover of elections and call for a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. The Massachusetts House voted late last night by voice vote to pass a resolution supporting an amendment, following in the footsteps of the state Senate’s bipartisan passage of the resolution via a 35-1 vote last week.

With the passage of this measure, Massachusetts joins California, Hawaii, New Mexico, Vermont, Rhode Island and Maryland in calling for a constitutional amendment. The final vote in the Massachusetts House comes just weeks after California’s passage of a similar bill, signaling growing nationwide support for Congress to act.

“Massachusetts now joins the several states and hundreds of communities across the country that have issued similar resolutions,” said Mark Hays, coordinator for Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign. “With leadership from the states, we’re demonstrating that amending the Constitution to challenge the corrosive impacts of money in politics is no pipedream, but a mainstream vision for a democracy that serves the people.”

Public Citizen has been instrumental in working with resolution sponsors state Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and state Rep. Cory Atkins (D-Concord) to introduce the resolution and push it through the legislative process. The organization worked with activists and supporters statewide to keep pressure on the Legislature. Public Citizen was joined by Free Speech for People, Common Cause Massachusetts, MassVOTE, MASSPIRG and the Greater Boston Coffee Party, as well as the Massachusetts Nurses Association, the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, the Berkshire Environmental Action Team and many other organizations in advancing the resolution.

As part of the effort, Public Citizen also worked with other allied national organizations such as CREDO Mobile and, which generated tens of thousands of signatures and phone calls from Massachusetts residents urging the state Legislature to pass the resolution.

Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, Super PACs and other independent groups – many of which can hide the identities of their donors – have spent huge amounts, in some cases outspending individual campaigns by a ratio of 2-to-1. Citizens United-enabled outside group spending is devoted overwhelmingly to negative attack ads. The funds come from a very small cluster of people; just 22 individuals and corporations accounted for half the money raised by Super PACs through the end of 2011.

Public Citizen has helped lead the introduction of similar resolutions in California, Vermont and Maryland, and has supported the efforts of local activists and lawmakers who have introduced similar resolutions in Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, New Jersey, Connecticut and New York. In total, resolutions have been introduced or passed in 26 states and have passed in more than 288 cities and towns nationwide. In Massachusetts, 68 communities, including Boston, Springfield and Worcester, have voted in favor of a constitutional amendment. In addition, more than 119 members of Congress support a constitutional amendment, as does President Barack Obama.

“Unless we aim to turn over control of our elections to Karl Rove, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Sheldon Adelson and a very few others, we need a constitutional amendment to reset our campaign finance system and to re-establish the principle that democracy means rule by the people, not giant corporations,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.

To learn more about Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign, visit:


Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

Public Citizen Links:

Corporations Are Not People in Montana, Colorado

by Common Dreams staff

In a landslide victory Tuesday night, Montana voters approved ( an initiative stating "that corporations are not entitled to constitutional rights because they are not human beings" -- corporations are not people.

The initiative directly challenges the now infamous Citizens United SCOTUS decision, which allows corporations to contribute unlimited amounts of money for campaign groups know as super PACS and 'shadow money' organizations.

Initiative 166 will win roughly 75 percent to 25 percent, according to the likely, but not yet final, results, Montana's Billings Gazette reports (

The initiative states:

"Ballot initiative I-166 establishes a state policy that corporations are not entitled to constitutional rights because they are not human beings, and charges Montana elected and appointed officials, state and federal, to implement that policy. With this policy, the people of Montana establish that there should be a level playing field in campaign spending, in part by prohibiting corporate campaign contributions and expenditures and by limiting political spending in elections..."

The measure, proposed by the group Stand with Montanans, will determine state policy on prohibiting corporate contributions and expenditures in state and national elections, and will charge state lawmakers with furthering the state's policy on the matter, asking congressional delegates to support efforts to overrule the Citizens United decision by amending the U.S. Constitution.

Similarly, Colorado Amendment 65 looks like a victory. 65 instructs Colorado’s congressional delegation to propose and support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that allows congress to overturn Citizens United.

Results from the CO Secretary of State ( show a YES for Amendment 65 with a margin of 73% with 23 of 64 counties reporting.

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