The joint Senate-House resolution calling for a constitutional amendment on corporate personhood that has been rattling around the Legislature for some time finally passed in the House with a vote of 92-40.
Debate on the floor fell mostly down party lines, with several Republicans arguing against the bill and Democrats calling attention to similarly worded resolutions passed by 64 towns on Town Meeting Day.
Rep. Thomas Koch, R-Barre, argued the entire resolution infringed on First Amendment rights, while Rep. Brian Savage, R-Swanton, questioned the nature of the mandate given on Town Meeting Day because it represented less than half the state’s population.
“The U.S. government may not pick or choose those who are entitled to engage in public speech,” Koch said. “Just as Kennedy and Roberts in the majority opinion said that we find no basis for the proposition that in the context of political speech the government may impose restrictions on certain disfavored speakers, political speech does not lose First Amendment protection simply because its source is a corporation.”
Rep. Oliver Olsen, R-Jamaica, posed an amendment to the resolution that would have limited campaign contributions from the domestic subsidiaries of foreign corporations. Under current law, foreign corporations are barred from making contributions.
Olsen’s amendment alluded to Green Mountain Power’s close ties to the Shumlin administration and an inaugural party held for the new governor when he took office in 2010. Olsen expressed concern about the undue influence of foreign corporations and their governments on U.S. politics.
However, several representatives felt the amendment did not reflect the intention of Vermont towns that voted on resolutions similar to J.R.S. 11 on Town Meeting Day.
“I think it’s important that we honor the intent and specific requests of people who voted in those town meetings who so many of us in this body represent by asking us to do what they asked,” said Rep. Richard Marek, D-Windham.
Marek said that while it was unlikely the resolution would have a huge impact on Vermont, at least it reflected the will of the state.
Another amendment from Rep. Dustin Degree (R-Franklin) failed to add reference to unions in addition to corporations.