Thursday, June 14, 2012
The Profit Is The Watchman Over Ephraim
Our Town Clerk sent out draft minutes of March's Town Meeting (which we'll be reviewing for approval at the next Selectboard meeting). Other than my election to a position of public trust, this naturally made me smile:
Art. 18: In light of the United States Supreme Court's Citizens United decision that equates money with speech and gives corporations rights constitutionally intended for natural persons, shall the town of Fletcher vote on March 6, 2012 to urge the Vermont Congressional Delegation and the U.S. Congress to propose a U.S. Constitutional amendment for the States' consideration which provides that money is not speech, and that corporations are not persons under the U.S. Constitution, that the General Assembly of the State of Vermont pass a similar resolution, and that the town send its resolution to Vermont State and Federal representatives within thirty days of passage of this measure?
Motion by Diane D to put Art. 18 on the floor. Second by Melanie M.
Discussion: Todd P talked about the pros and Todd B the cons. John L agreed with Todd B and not Todd P...this time!!! Jon B did some online research and agreed with Todd P and not Todd B!!! Money buys influence. Corp. vs. Individuals. Steve S corporations are not people, they are run by CEOs and a Board of Directors.
Motion by Diane D to cease discussion. Second by Melanie M.
Voice Vote on Art. 18. Passed.
I think the account captures the spirit of our debate fairly well, and I'm pleased it will always be a part of our public record, regardless of what happens as we try to fix our electoral process.
I'm not going to relitigate Citizens United at this point, but I did want to briefly highlight a couple things from the case. First, the naive Kennedy and his majority opinion:
[T]here is only scant evidence that independent expenditures even ingratiate...Ingratiation and access, in any event, are not corruption.
One hopes that given the reality of record monies being spent in Wisconsin, open spigots pouring cash out from the 1%, and veritable knob-slobbing our Galtian Overlords get from those charged with oversight, the good Justice might consider what Zephyr Teachout has written about corruption and its relationship to asymmetric political access. Then he might see the error of his ways and flip his vote if the MT Supreme Court ruling comes into his domain.
And now Stevens, writing for the minority:
The basic premise underlying the Court’s ruling is its iteration, and constant reiteration, of the proposition that the First Amendment bars regulatory distinctions based on a speaker’s identity, including its “identity” as a corporation. While that glittering generality has rhetorical appeal, it is not a correct statement of the law...The conceit that corporations must be treated identically to natural persons in the political sphere is not only inaccurate but also inadequate to justify the Court’s disposition of this case.
In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it. They cannot vote or run for office. Because they may be managed and controlled by nonresidents, their interests may conflict in fundamental respects with the interests of eligible voters. The financial resources, legal structure, and instrumental orientation of corporations raise legitimate concerns about their role in the electoral process. Our lawmakers have a compelling constitutional basis, if not also a democratic duty, to take measures designed to guard against the potentially deleterious effects of corporate spending in local and national races.
The majority’s approach to corporate electioneering marks a dramatic break from our past. Congress has placed special limitations on campaign spending by corporations ever since the passage of the Tillman Act in 1907...The Court today rejects a century of history when it treats the distinction between corporate and individual campaign spending as an invidious novelty...Relying largely on individual dissenting opinions, the majority blazes through our precedents, overruling or disavowing a body of case law...
In a democratic society, the longstanding consensus on the need to limit corporate campaign spending should outweigh the wooden application of judge-made rules. The majority’s rejection of this principle “elevate[s] corporations to a level of deference which has not been seen at least since the days when substantive due process was regularly used to invalidate regulatory legislation thought to unfairly impinge upon established economic interests.”...At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.
It would be nice to see more concern for actual humans whose republic this is than artificial persons who claim civil rights but deny their social responsibilities. Indeed, that's why we really need a constitutional amendment to clarify that money isn't speech and corporations ain't people, so immense wealth at a time of great disparity doesn't drown out individual voices and votes.
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