Posts Tagged ‘Citizens United v. FEC’

What can you do if you want to help stamp money out of politics? Well, Ben Cohen, the Ben from Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, has an idea: stamp money.

The founder of one of the biggest ice cream brands in the country is teaming up with Public Citizen, Move to Amend and People for the American Way to garner support for a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allows corporations to spend unlimited money to influence elections, and related cases.

To raise awareness, Ben & Jerry’s are calling on concerned citizens to stamp dollar bills with slogans such as “corporations are not people” and “not to be used for buying elections.” These stamps are being sold at cost at the Stamp Stampede website (http://stampstampede.org/shop/).

“It’s some monetary jujitsu – using money to get money out of politics,” Cohen told the USA Today.

The Stamp Stampede calculates that every bill will be seen by approximately 875 people in its lifetime. If 100 people stamped 10 bills every day, the entire population of the United States would have seen the message at least once within a year. Activists are being encouraged to stamp as many bills as they can to exercise their right to free speech and raise awareness of the dangers of corporate money in politics.

Cohen has consulted with his lawyer and assures activists that stamping dollar bills is legal. The First Amendment protects the stamps because they are political messages that don’t damage the bills or render them unusable.

You can get more involved with Public Citizen’s efforts for a constitutional amendment at www.democracyisforpeople.org.

 

Written by Ben Moran, Intern, Democracy Is For People Campaign.

This is an exciting time here at the Democracy Is For People Campaign! Congress is responding to a groundswell of support for an amendment to rein in corporate influence over our democracy.  U.S. Sen. Tom Udall’s (D-N.M.) constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United v Federal Election Commission ruling has continued to gain co-sponsors, while several members of the House of Representatives also have introduced amendments.

Today, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) introduced an amendment that would go even further.  Public Citizen President Rob Weissman commented, “We herald the Deutch amendment and applaud the efforts in Congress to seriously address this issue at the crux of challenges to our democracy. Rep. Deutch’s amendment would clarify that constitutional rights are intended for real, live, breathing human beings. It would end corporate spending on elections. And it would give Congress authority to adopt a sensible campaign finance system. It would make America stronger, more democratic and more just.”

Reports from the Grassroots. We are getting closer to the January 21 National Day of Action, and the house parties held last week to plan for it went very well! This past week we have been receiving more and more encouraging reports from house-party hosts. They have been coming up with plans for the January 21 Day of Action to call out corporations for posing as human beings, and being ‘citizen impersonators’ and ‘imposters’ in our democracy. Democracy is for people, and as house-party host Laura from Pennsylvania remarked, “If corporations are people, they should be able to produce a birth certificate and show us their belly buttons.”

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The Supreme Court’s 2010 decision to open the floodgates to unlimited corporate expenditures in elections has recently been thrust back into the spotlight by the international Occupy movement. And rightly so, given that the Americans creating a “church of dissent” in urban public spaces are echoing popular discontent with a broken political process– one where the voices of “We the People” seem to be drowned out by powerful special interests all too often.

Thus, it’s fitting that, as they’ve cast a spotlight on a ruling that is widely reviled by Americans across the political spectrum, Occupy participants have inadvertently highlighted another sad result of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.  As Professor David Kairys observed the day the ruling was handed down (full disclosure: I conducted research on Citizens United under Professor Kairys’ supervision in 2010), corporations’ attempts to influence elections through unlimited spending are now granted a heightened level of constitutional protection compared to, say, everyday citizens:

Political cartoon by Cory M. Grenier, via Flickr.

“Taken as a whole, the conservative court’s First Amendment jurisprudence has enlarged the speech rights available to wealthy people and corporations and restricted the speech rights available to people of ordinary means and to dissenters.”

Indeed, the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment in recent decades specifically limits Occupy encampments’ potential recourse against government restrictions. As Christopher Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union explained, today’s gatherings are potentially limited by the Court’s 1983 decision in Clark v. Community for Creative Non-Violence (“CCNV”).

CCNV upheld the National Park Service’s decision to prevent advocates for the homeless from sleeping in Lafayette Park (across the street from the White House) and on the National Mall, and limit them to daytime protest. Camping out in the park was meant to be a central part of the activists’ critical message about Reagan administration policies. Nevertheless, the government’s valid interests in public safety and the “aesthetic value” of national parkland for tourists were given broad deference by the Court (too much deference according to the late Justice Thurgood Marshall’s dissent).

CCNV doesn’t give state and local officials carte blanche to evict today’s encampments, of course; as Dahlia Lithwick points out, it is an open legal question “whether the regulations being used to shut down protest are bogus attempts to use neutral-sounding rules to suppress speech.”  And as Dunn notes, he was able to successfully represent advocates in New York who wanted to sleep on the sidewalk in front of Gracie Mansion to protest then Mayor Giuliani’s policies.

Still, when you look at CCNV alongside other court rulings over the past few decades that have limited the scope and form of individual free speech rights, the clear reality is that the First Amendment is far from a surefire defense against government regulation.

In sharp contrast, Citizens United places even modest, bipartisan restrictions on the manner and target of corporate spending in elections into the category of constitutional “strict scrutiny.” They were deemed a “classic example of censorship” to be vigorously guarded against according to Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Kennedy simply brushed aside Justice John Paul Stevens’ dissenting observation that corporations still wield the ability to form political action committees, have their executives and board members make individual contributions, and otherwise lobby and make their preferences clear. As a result, there was no deferential balancing of interests like in CCNV. Laws restricting corporate spending are presumptively unconstitutional, and can’t be upheld unless the government has an extremely compelling reason for them.

And lo and behold! Kennedy and his colleagues determined that Congress’ concern for the corrosive impact of unlimited corporate money is simply too speculative. Without hard and fast evidence of quid pro quo corruption, efforts to halt the undermining of the quintessential public forum at the heart of our democracy– the elections in which individual, and not corporate, citizens cast their ballots– are for naught.

So even though corporate spending to back political candidates was never imagined to be a form of protected speech (let alone subject to such elevated protection) by the Framers, thanks to Citizens United, it has been placed at the heart of the First Amendment.

Meanwhile, citizens who have not incorporated themselves and aren’t flush with cash, but wish to express their displeasure with the ruling and the broader distortion of our democracy, have greater restrictions than large corporations on their right to speak out.

It is precisely this skewed reality that makes me, as a student of American history, a newly-minted lawyer, and a citizen of this great nation, proud to be a part of the Democracy is for People campaign’s effort to pass a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United.  If you’re equally outraged, and equally impassioned to do something about it, then get involved in this movement today.

Sean Siperstein is a Legal Fellow with the Democracy is For People campaign.

People are taking action across the country to mark the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that corporate political spending is the same thing as real speech by real people.

Left unchecked, the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling will have grave consequences for our democracy. In last fall’s elections, corporate spending soared, and sources of outside spending were kept secret. This outside money was a major factor in 80 percent of the races where power changed hands.

Now, any lawmaker who is interested in standing against corporate interests has to figure out how to say ‘no’ to corporate lobbyists wielding the resources to replace him or her with a more corporate-friendly lawmaker.

But We, the People are mobilizing to fight back.

From Massachusetts to Oregon, Florida to Alaska, more than 100 demonstrations are being held throughout the nation.
Even a group of socially conscious business corporations, led by Ben & Jerry’s, is standing up to assert that we need a constitutional amendment to stop the corporate takeover of our democracy.

Nearly a million concerned citizens have signed petitions calling on Congress to pass such a constitutional amendment — petitions that will be delivered to Congress at noon today (Public Citizen’s petition is at www.DontGetRolled.org).

If you’re participating in today’s actions, be sure to take pictures, make videos, blog and tweet about what you’re doing. You can share your photos, videos and other documentation with us by sending an email to action@citizen.org, sending a tweet to @Public_Citizen or posting it on our Facebook page.

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