Statehouse rally renews call for Vermont support for constitutional amendment

Ginny Lyons
Sen. Ginny Lyons. VTD/Josh Larkin

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.

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Eli Sherman

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  • Why wait for a federal constitutional amendment? Why not start in Vermont law?

  • Mike Kerin

    Support Bernie Sanders because he has a bill in the Senate to overturn the citizens united mess.

  • timothy k price

    Getting signatures on this petition has been difficult: the political parties seem not to be interested in supporting the amendment; the public is poorly educated about the issue; there seems to be a good deal of concern from people that they not take a stand on anything; the rest of them are corporate employees or CEOs.
    Every town in the state is a corporation too, as are the schools, (i think).
    There has been no media coverage in support it the effort as media are controlled corporations.
    I hope some towns will have petitions enough to at least force a vote at town meetings, but am wondering how may of their meetings will vote to support this effort to get an amendment for “natural persons” rights? It needs to happen, but the people are apathetic as usual. They are good people who will stand by and allow evil to prevail, so it seems.

  • Curtis Sinclair

    The Saving American Democracy Amendment proposed by Senator Sanders states that:

    •Corporations are not persons with constitutional rights equal to real people.
    •Corporations are subject to regulation by the people.
    •Corporations may not make campaign contributions or any election expenditures.
    •Congress and states have the power to regulate campaign finances.

    You can join the list of cosigners here: http://sanders.senate.gov/petition/?uid=f1c2660f-54b9-4193-86a4-ec2c39342c6c

  • Tom Pelham

    I’m curious if anyone, including the reporter of the above article, can reconcile the apparent disparity with the effort outlined above with this legal analysis presented on Vt. Digger authored by two seemingly thoughtful lawyers associated with the Occupy movement?


    If our legislators are barking up the wrong tree, it would be helpful know.

  • walter carpenter

    “Why wait for a federal constitutional amendment? Why not start in Vermont law?”

    Great idea, Rama.

  • Join the movement! Visit http://www.democracyisforpeople.org to sign the petition for an amendment and get involved.

    Mr. Leas proposal, while well-intentioned, would destroy the separation of powers at the core of our democratic system. If Congress could restrict the Constitutional topics upon which the Supreme Court could rule, or retroactively overturn its rulings, this would not be the last time it would do so. It would forever undermine the independence of the court. An amendment is a bigger hurdle – and it should be difficult to overturn decisions of the highest court in the land, the law is meant to be lasting, as amendments are as well.

  • Wendy Wilton

    Question: Does Sen. Sanders’ proposal, which Sen. Lyons and Campbell are supporting, exclude unions from being viewed as a corporate entity? To be fair, either unions and corporations are both allowed to be percieved as ‘persons’ under the law or both are not.

    My guess is that this initiative by Sanders will allow unions to have free speech but not corporations, and that makes no sense. Unions and corporate entities are both organizations formed by individuals (either for profit or non-profit) and the corporate resolution or other document has the names of the officers who are responsible.