Lawmakers and activists joined together to rally new support for a resolution introduced last year that called for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case.
The Supreme Court ruled that corporations and unions have the same political speech rights as individuals under the First Amendment. The 5-to-4 decision, made on Jan. 21, 2010, allows corporations and unions to make election-related “independent expenditures.”
State Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Williston, introduced the resolution, J.R.S. 11, last year on the one-year anniversary of the court’s decision. Now, a year later, she is drumming up new support. Lyons was joined by lawmakers and activists at a press conference on Wednesday at the Statehouse.
“Money is not speech,” Lyons said as she waved dollar bills around in the air. “So I will not use money to speak.”
Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell said that transparency is necessary in campaign financing. Without it, said Campbell, large companies have the opportunity to “hide behind the cloak of anonymity.” He added that although the Supreme Court’s decision must be followed, it is unfortunate that “while deliberating corporate personhood, five of our Supreme Court justices failed to take into consideration that entities such as Citizens United are without souls.”
The measure before Vermont legislators calls for Vermont’s congressional delegation to support a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court’s decision. Such a resolution must pass both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives with a two-thirds majority. Then, the amendment would move to state legislatures where three-fourths of them would have to ratify the resolution for it to become law.
Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, a trade organization for “socially responsible” companies, supports the constitutional amendment.
“We all know that small businesses are the backbone of our economy,” said VBSR’s public policy manager Dan Barlow. “This ruling makes it possible for one large company to drown out the voices of thousands of small business leaders.”
According to an Internet survey of 500 small-business owners across the country conducted by the national public opinion and political strategy research firm Lake Research, 66 percent of business leaders surveyed said the ruling was bad for small businesses. Also, 88 percent of businesses polled negatively towards the role of money in elections.
Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, released a report Wednesday highlighting expenditures made by corporations since the Supreme Court’s decision in 2010. Some of their findings included:
Spending by outside groups rose 427 percent in the 2010 election cycle, reaching $294.2 million.
$15.5 million of corporate cash went to “Super PACs” (during the year following the decision.
Companies with interests in the energy sector accounted for more than 36 percent of all corporate donations to SuperPACs.
Also, a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that eight out of 10 respondents opposed the decision of Citizen United v. FEC.
Vermont’s independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, who proposed a constitutional amendment in December to reverse the Supreme Court decision, applauded the efforts by Lyons and Campbell.
“I applaud Senators Lyons and Campbell for speaking out on the need for a constitutional amendment to end the domination of corporate money in the political process. I hope their resolution is adopted and that other states follow Vermont’s lead,” Sanders said.