Citizens United

U.S Representative Jim McGovern introduced two constitutional amendments to overturn Citizens United in Washington D.C. on Tuesday.

Rep. McGovern’s first amendment, HJ Res 20, would restore Congress’ and the states’ authority to regulate campaign spending.

The second amendment, HJ Res 21, would overturn Citizens United and clarify that constitutional rights apply to living persons, not corporations. This “People’s Rights Amendment” protects the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, freedom of assembly, and freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances.

On Thursday, Rep.McGovern kicked off a “People’s Rights” tour at Suffolk Law School, where he was joined by Attorney General Martha Coakley, State Senator Jamie Eldridge, State Representative Marty Walz, State Representative Cory Atkins, Harvard Law Professor John Coates, American Sustainable Business Council CEO David Levine, and Free Speech for People co-founders John Bonifaz and Jeff Clements.

When asked about a timeline for measuring progress, Congressman McGovern said, “We’re using procedural motions to offer amendments. We need to prove that there is a debate. Speaker Boehner isn’t going to bring this up on the floor. This isn’t going to happen overnight.”

He also referenced the Warren-Brown Senate race “People’s Pledge,” that was aimed at curbing the financial influence of third-party groups. “Look at the pact Warren and Brown made but jeez, look how much money they had to raise.” The campaigns spent a combined $70 million dollars for the Senate race.

Congressman McGovern reiterated, “The whole point is to empower ordinary people. Ordinary people should have a bigger say about what happens to them than a corporation. There’s no better way to even the playing field than to get the money out of politics.”

The movement to overturn Citizens United has been growing across the country. During the most recent election, voters in Montana and Colorado approved ballot measures by nearly three to one margins. Montana, a traditionally Republican- leaning state, passed I-166, the Stand with Montanans measure, declaring that corporations are not people. The ballot initiative goes further to direct all elected officials to support a constitutional amendment to create a level playing field in campaign spending.

While most other states have not risen to this level of discontent, many are getting there. Nine other states, including Massachusetts, passed resolutions calling for amendments in their legislatures.

John Bonifaz, co-founder and executive director of Free Speech For People, responded to a question on the importance of the amendment to low-wage workers from Spare Change News directly. “We have a system that disfavors low wage workers. Debates on economic justice won’t be heard in Congress because of corporations holding power there now. When you have political equality, then the workers will be heard.”

Jeff Clements, author of “Corporations Are Not People”, added, “In a functioning democracy, wages must keep up with the cost of living. Corporate democracy keeps wages down. If we can pass this reform, we can end the stagnation of wages and help the low wage worker.”

A petition to ask President Obama to use his February 12th State of the Union address to call for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics has reached 25,222 signatures since January 8th.

On a state level, Massachusetts Senator Jamie Eldridge and Representatives Marty Walz and Cory Atkins have worked to pass the Massachusetts Disclosure Act, which would update political spending disclosure laws to include disclosure requirements for corporations. It unanimously passed the Senate in June of 2012, but has failed to come up for a vote in the House.

David Levine, co-founder of the American Sustainable Business Council, told Spare Change News, “You should check out our campaign called ‘Business For a Fair Minimum Wage.’ Costco just signed on to federal minimum wage improvement efforts. For the most part, corporations are interested in moving money and jobs overseas. The voices of small businesses and low wage workers are drowned out in the halls of Congress because of their undue influence. Imagine if the $1.3 billion dollars in campaign money (estimated to have been spent in the 2012 presidential campaign by SuperPACS), was reinvested back into the economy for training of new workers, re-education for new jobs, energy jobs, or education.”

The Business for a Fair Minimum Wage campaign does not have a federal sign-on statement up yet, but has a list of signatories available for the last federal minimum wage hike from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour between 2007 to 2009. For states without a minimum wage, or with a minimum wage below the federal level of $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum wage applies to nearly all hourly workers in that state.

There are significant changes that need to be made, but it all starts with conversation. The state of politics as it is today does not give a voice to the forgotten members of our society: the working poor, the homeless, immigrants, and women. There is a stark difference between what goes on in the life of the average American voter, and what is happening in DC every day.

Perhaps Congressman McGovern said it best. “I can tell you every single day whether its the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or Republican Congressional Campaign Committee or their counterparts in the Senate, those desks are filled every day with members of the House and the Senate who are trying to raise money, and trying to raise money. It is not healthy for our system.”

—Sarah Betancourt

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