Constitutional amendment on corporate personhood passes on party line vote in the House

Rep. Tom Koch, R-Barre, foreground and other lawmakers clap on the House floor. Photo by Ceilidh Galloway-Kane

Rep. Tom Koch, R-Barre, foreground and other lawmakers clap on the House floor. Photo by Ceilidh Galloway-Kane

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.

Comments

  1. Hod Palmer, :

    Corporation speach is evil, union speak is good, huh?

    • Unions are at this time all corporations too.

      • Patrick Cashman :

        Really? It seems that many are actually 501(c)4 organizations, “Super PACS” if you will. Much like VPIRG. An excellent example would be UP-AFT.

  2. howie ires :

    The uproar over the Citizens United decision comes from a basic misunderstanding of it.

    The point of Citizens United is that free speech cannot be restricted, whether it comes from a corporation or a person.

    The real issue is that of politicians accepting payments from corporations and people. The solution to that is to ban political contributions – completely!

  3. Daniel Barlow :

    VBSR is very proud of our House and Senate members for supporting this resolution.

    One quick correction: Yesterday’s vote was in the House, not the Senate. Your headline is wrong.

  4. Erin Hale :

    Thank you Daniel.

  5. Michael Bayer :

    You are both missing the point. The Citizen’s United decision is based on a non Constitutional, non legal assertion that corporations are persons i.e. Human Beings,and therefore are entitled to free speech rights granted to “we the people” in the Constitution.

    The only precedent was a footnote to a decison added by a clerk in the nineteenth century. Even then, ALL DECISIONS of the Supreme Court prohibited corporate contributions to election campaigns for over 100 years.

    The Court also distinguished between free political speech and free commercial speech. This decision may invalidate all of those precedents and may well open the door for the freedom of corporations to lie and mislead in thier advertising since truth is not a necessary ingrediant in free political speech.

    This Court invented the idea that corporations were entitled to all the rights of citizens out of whole cloth (thus the most activist decision by a court ever).

  6. Margo Howland :

    Does anyone have the actual roll call vote?

  7. Erin Hale :
  8. Walter Carpenter :

    God, we have to protect ourselves from our supreme court now or they will take everything from us that they can. Although I could not make the vote yesterday because of another meeting, I am proud that our house of representatives had the courage to do this. It speaks volumes about Vermont and its citizens legislature.

  9. A constitutional amendment is indeed a tall order and that is why it is crucial for its advocates to gain a full understanding of the underlying issues and advocate for an amendment that is both powerful and can be widely acceptable to the vast majority of Americans of all political persuasions. Sen. Sanders and others advocacy of this issue is highly laudable however the issues of corporate personage and money equaling speech are in many ways red herrings and distract us from solving the issues at hand. As far as corporate personage is concerned, determining the legal status and nomenclature utilized is not the crucial issue. What is seminal is what corporations, unions and other organizations and groups can do to distort democracy through the power they gain by aggregation both economically and politically.
    That is why the Renew Democracy Amendment proposes in part that “The right to contribute to political campaigns and political parties is held solely by individual citizens.” This strong statement diffuses concern about the status of any organization as it would no longer be able to contribute. Neither corporations or unions or any other group should buy our representatives. For the understandable concern that the public has with regards to the issue of whether money equals speech to facts must be recognized. The first is that any donation to campaigns and candidates is political speech so at its very essence any donation has the form of money equaling speech. . That is why the Renew Democracy Amendment proposes, “Political campaign and political party contributions shall not exceed an amount reasonably affordable by the average American.” This allows for small-scale contributions that cannot by themselves influence legislators to act contrary to the will of the majority of their constituents.
    If Vermont takes up this issue of solving the problems delineated in Citizens United, they should strongly consider the proposals in the RDA as the way to answer their call and more.
    http://www.renewdemocracy.org/

  10. Ron Pulcer :

    According to the roll call for JRS 11, there were 17 VT House members that were ABSENT.

    That is an 11.4% absentee rate. Is this typical for House votes? Or did these reps “go on strike” for the day?

    My town rep was absent for this vote. I also heard he was absent for the public hearing on GMOs last week. It figures, given that he is an ALEC member.

  11. walter carpenter :

    “It figures, given that he is an ALEC member.”

    Ron, remember that in November.

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