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Constitutional amendment gets overwhelming support in Vermont

Corporate personhood protesters
Protesters rally against the Citizens United decision at the Statehouse in Montpelier on Jan. 20. Photo by Rob Lehmert courtesy of Public Citizen.

UPDATE: This story was updated on Mar. 8, 2012.

Sixty-three Vermont towns out of a possible sixty-five voted in support of a Constitutional amendment challenging corporate personhood on Town Meeting Day.

Each town voted by ballot or floor vote on similarly worded resolutions calling for state legislators and Vermont’s congressional delegation to work towards overturning Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, a landmark 2010 Supreme Court decision that allows for unlimited corporate spending on political campaigns.

The resolution failed in Pittsfield, and Mendon voted that it was not germane. For results and a list of towns that voted on the measure see Public Citizen website.

According to Aquene Freechild, a senior organizer for Public Citizen, the resolution failed in Pittsfield after a citizen noted the amendment would mean that George Soros, a liberally minded billionaire, would be unable to make contributions as well.

Freechild said she felt the support of 63 towns would send a strong message from Vermont and hopefully gain momentum.

“I think that Vermont is leading the way, and clearly something that voters are concerned about across parties. There were a number of resolutions that passed in Republican districts. I think it’s going to be a bellwether for the rest of country, with a move to amend the Constitution. Many of the groups are going to issue a call for movements around the country with resolutions calling for constitutional amendment,” she said.

Freechild said that Public Citizen and other groups had escalated their work since December, holding several rallies, including one at the Statehouse before the anniversary of Citizens United, and signature drives in January.

Robin Lloyd, an organizer for Move to Amend and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, said the vote could be seen as a litmus test for public dissatisfaction with democracy in America.

“I think it’s going to have a big national impact because there hasn’t been enough opportunities for the grassroots to be heard on this issue. I think people have been watching the news appalled at the Republican primaries, and at how the 1% has been able to sustain candidates that are viable as president of the United States,” she said.

The vote, says Lloyd, could add momentum to a similar joint Senate resolution at the statehouse, J.R.S. 11, calling for a constitutional amendment on corporate personhood. The resolution, according to its sponsor Senator Ginny Lyons (D-Williston), has been sitting in Senate Government Operations for almost two years.

“I think the result of the town meeting vote is a strong incentive and motivation for the resolution to be passed out through the full Senate and the House,” Lyons said. “I know the House is just chomping at the bit to act on the resolution as well. It’s one of those things that our congressional delegation is waiting for, and they very much support the message we’re sending to congress.”

“It’s non-binding but it would be unprecedented if it were to pass the state Legislature. We’re hoping that this would put pressure on the committee to pass it,” said Lloyd.

Eric Davis, professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College, said that while the town vote reflected political feeling in Vermont, supporters might have to dig their heels in if they hope to see a constitutional amendment.

“I think proponents of this have to realize this doesn’t change things over night. Getting two-thirds of the House and Senate to approve a constitutional amendment and then three-quarters of states is a very long process. I think it clearly shows where public opinion is on this question and you know where Vermont is,” said Davis.

“While there may be a little more support [in Vermont] than the rest of country for changing the scheme set up by the Citizens United decision, it’s a long haul to change it.”

Lyons said, however, that she did not feel deterred by how long it could take to see a successful Constitutional amendment.

“Anything worth doing takes a long time. It took over 45 years to get women the right to vote, and that didn’t happen until 1920. I don’t mind being patient. I may be dead by the time this thing passes, but in the mean time I think it’s important that we work for a comprehensive solution to the disastrous results that we see form the Citizens United decision.”

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Erin Hale

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