Archive 2008 - 2019

Vote YES on Ballot Question 5

by Dianna Vosburg

Election day is next Tuesday, November 4. Ballot question five concerns the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission.


Do you feel as though your voice is heard in Washington? Are you concerned that public policy isn’t really serving the public, and laws increasingly favor wealthy special interests, especially corporations? Why are states and towns so starved of funding for basic needs while the gains in the economy go to those very few at the top? Wealthy donors gain influence by spending piles of cash for (or against) candidates for office, who when elected write the laws that then favor their donors and not ordinary citizens. This is a form of corruption, and it is not the representative democracy that our founders intended.

I am often amazed by the remarkable distance between public opinion polling and the policies that Congress actually enacts. For example, recent polling shows that the majority of Americans agree that there is too much money in politics! And yet Congress has done nothing to address this problem. It’s not in their interest to end this corruption, which is the source of much of their campaign funding.

What went wrong? The courts have, over time, sided with wealthy interests, and granted fictive entities Constitutional personhood rights, establishing the doctrine of corporate personhood and the suggestion that money is somehow the same thing as free speech rather than an amplifier for speech. Yet corporations are not mentioned in the Bill of Rights, nor did our Constitution grant them personhood rights.

Corporations need certain personhood rights to function (for example, to enter into contracts or to sue), but they can gain these through statues. They should not have and do not need the same innate Constitutional rights as natural-born human beings.

Corporations are also using these Constitutional personhood rights to evade commonsense regulations, such as preventing surprise inspections of food processing plants on privacy grounds. Recently, McDonald’s sued the city of Seattle, claiming that Seattle’s new living wage law violates their 14th Amendment right to equal protection. The 14th Amendment was intended to protect the rights of freed slaves…the rights of people, not of a giant multi-national corporation seeking to block a democratically established law.

If Congress will not act, what can we do? We need to fight for a Constitutional amendment that affirms that only natural persons have innate Constitutional personhood rights, and that political spending is not the same thing as free speech and may be regulated by Congress and the states.

Please vote YES on Question 5. This ballot question will appear in Rep. Carolyn Dykema’s district on November 4th:

“Shall the state representative from this district be instructed to vote in favor of a resolution calling upon Congress to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution affirming that 1) rights protected under the Constitution are the rights of natural persons only and 2) both Congress and the States may place limits on political contributions and political spending?”

This ballot question arose from a non-partisan, grassroots effort to restore representation for people in public policy. (See for more information.) By voting YES, you can let our government know that we are serious about ending corruption and restoring democracy in this country.

On a hot Saturday this summer, Ellen George (top) and Dianna Vosburg collected signatures for the petition to place this question on the ballot.

Comments (7)

Correction: Congress should NOT have the authority to redefine free speech

Sean | 2014-11-04 14:07:07

I believe unions and corporations have too much power yes but I do not think Congress, made up of some of the most corrupt and incompetent individuals, should have the authority to redefine free speech.

Sean | 2014-11-03 15:10:32

Ignoring this ballot question for a moment, does anyone believe that there *isn't* a problem with corporations and unions having too much power over the government?

Mark | 2014-11-02 18:13:26

I appreciate the history lesson Taylor but please know that I am not confused on any of the points based on my premise. You are confused due to your interpretation of that premise. I am well versed in the history and intentions of our Founding Fathers and the economic and political climate the operated in. That being said, they were just as up untrustful of corporations then as they would be of corporations and unions today. The definition of corporation vs personhood is not the core issue here. Neither you nor I know what the exact text of that amendment will be. The advocates for changing it have one goal in mind and that is to discourage dissenting opinion period. Believe it or not there are politicians that have made a living on lying to the public and avoiding accountability. When informed citizens who can think for themselves choose to voice their criticism, it makes the party in power very uncomfortable. The best way around that is to silence the public. Until somebody can show me the text that will guarantee that the "Republican Conservatives Corporation" and the "Democrat Progressive Corporation" will each be treated equally under this proposed law, then it should be opposed passionately and repeatedly. The First Amendment protects associations of individuals in addition to individual speakers, and further it does not allow prohibitions of speech based on the identity of the speaker. Corporations, as associations of individuals, therefore have speech rights under the First Amendment. Because spending money is essential to disseminating speech, as established in Buckley v. Valeo, limiting a corporation's ability to spend money is unconstitutional because it limits the ability of its members to associate effectively and to speak on political issues. There are many patriotic Americans who do not trust those holding political office today and with good reason. To give the government free reign to redefine freedom of speech under the illegitimate guise of "political spending" is the equivalent of giving the fox the keys to the henhouse. First they reset the definition of a corporation, then redefine "union" , then redefine " hate speech" all with the intention of protecting incumbents ignoring the will of the people. I did notice in your novel like response you did not argue in favor of MoveTo Amend, a wise choice that I respect and appreciate.

Sean | 2014-11-02 17:37:38

To pick up where I got cut off, Lewis Powell was appointed to the SCOTUS by Nixon almost immediately after writing and circulating his memo calling for remaking American society, in part through an activist-minded Supreme Court. During Powell's tenure, the Court greatly expanded the doctrine of corporate constitutional rights. It's that doctrine - which most Americans find absurd on its face, and which many of us who have studied it feel is both detrimental to our society and incompatible with the views of our country's founders - that we seek to change. No one is trying to take away your right, as a person, to say whatever you want. This is about the will of the people, and whether it is represented by our government. Want to protect children from the predations of tobacco companies? Too bad, thanks to corporate constitutional rights, we don't have the ability to self-govern in that regard. Here in MA we elected representatives who passed a law banning cigarette advertisements within 1000 feet of schools and playgrounds. Cigarette companies went to court, claiming the law violated the corporations' right to free speech. The law was struck down. Here's how far this dangerous notion has evolved: a couple of weeks ago, McDonalds announced that it was taking Seattle to court over the city's decision to raise the minimum wage, claiming that it violates McDonalds' right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment. Why do McDonalds' lawyers think they can win that case? Because corporations have used the same strategy to strike down laws protecting the public interest over and over again, for decades. Lastly, I'm not sure you understand what non-binding ballot questions are all about. What do you mean when you suggest the language should say "in favor or opposed"? It has to be a yes or no question. If you're in favor of your representative calling on Congress to propose an amendment, you vote YES. If you're opposed, you vote NO. This gives Rep. Dykema an indication of where here constituents stand on this question. Where are you getting this nonsense about unchallenged authority and unilateral power from? There's a process for amending the Constitution. It typically requires Congress to propose the amendment, and no matter what, it requires the states to ratify. It doesn't happen unless there is a tremendous amount of popular pressure. This question serves exactly the purpose you claim it doesn't - it puts the issue out there for debate, and it takes the temperature of public opinion at the district level. Look at us, you and I are debating and vetting the two sides of the issue! This question, in this district, is one tiny piece in a much larger discussion. Ultimately, the people of America will have to decide whether they're happy with the way their government is being controlled by corporate interests, and whether they want to do something about it. Until a real movement for democracy coalesces, you don't need to fret. T

Taylor Gaar | 2014-11-02 10:28:05

Unfortunately Sean, you seem to be confused on several points: - The basic premise is not "corporations do not equal personhood," as you seem to be interpreting that phrase, though that misperception is understandable. Let me help clarify what the amendment would and wouldn't do. Corporations have always functioned as an artificial type of "person" for the sake of doing business - entering into contracts, suing and being sued, etc. - that's what the legal fiction of a corporation is all about. This amendment wouldn't change that. But that kind of "personhood" is a far cry from the notion that these artificial entities enjoy the same panoply of rights that the framers understood to be inalienable, that is, inherent to who we are as human beings. Corporations are made up of people who have rights, yes (and those people's rights wouldn't change at all under this amendment), but that is very different from the claim that the corporation itself has those same rights. The corporation is legally distinct from the people who own it or work for it. It does not exist until the state government creates it through a charter, and it enjoys, through that charter, advantages unavailable to us as actual people, such as living forever. To put this distinction in historical context: The framers were generally wary of corporations. Most businesses in their day were not incorporated, and corporations were viewed as a road to monopoly, which had been the reality of colonial life under the crony capitalism regime of the British East India Company. Corporations were extremely tightly regulated in the early days of the republic. They were chartered for specific projects and for limited time periods. They were required to serve the public good. Shareholders were liable for all debts and damages, and a corporation couldn't own stock in another corporation. It was the powerful railroad barons who convinced state legislators in back-room deals to begin loosening the restrictions, beginning the race to the bottom that has led most of our nation's large non-bank corporations to be chartered in Delaware. And it wasn't until the Gilded Age that the Supreme Court first accepted the argument that a corporation could claim constitutional rights. In fact, it was a former railroad president, working as court reporter, who actually created the legal precedent, writing in the headnote of a case that corporations were persons entitled to the "equal protection" the 14th Amendment had sought to ensure for freed slaves and other persecuted groups. The doctrine of corporate constitutional rights was later greatly expanded by a corporate lawyer from the tobacco industry named Lewis Powell. Powell crafted a battle plan, circulated among the Chamber of Commerce, to make sure business interests dominated law and politics through a strategy that included judicial activism at the Supreme Court level, and lo and behold, that same year he found himself appointed to the Supreme

Taylor Gaar | 2014-11-01 22:52:39

You reference MoveToAmend as a non-partisan group but nothing could be further from the truth. Go to their website indeed and run through the list of sponsors and endorsers that fund this antiConstitutional Movement. You can't list The Socialists of America, CodePink, Progressive Democrats of America and US Day of Rage as your biggest supporters and say with a straight face they are advocates for a democratic Republic. Also your basic premise is that corporations do not equal personhood. Corporations are in fact made up of individual people or as the US Supreme Court described more accurately described, virtual, natural persons. I work for a corporation so whether I work in the mail room or am a CEO responsible for making charitable and PAC contributions, nobody can tell me what I can and cannot say or how much I can spend. The argument that "corporations" are not mentioned in the Constitution so should therefore not be recognized is nothing short of ridiculous. By that logic we should take anything that is not specifically called out in the Constitution and dismiss it. You also say that Congress has done nothing to address this "problem" of excessive spending. I am sure you realize that Congress is not authorized to do anything about it unless the will of the people demand it. There is that pesky First Amendment which states " ... Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech..."As is unfortunately the case with our most integrity challenged politicians, they look for any way possible around "we the people". This ballot question in its simplest form is being proposed to pave the way for making it easier to incrementally place restrictions on the first amendment. The scare tactics about corporations buying elections is nothing but scare tactics and a smoke screen. I know this ballot question is not binding but ask yourself this question honestly. Regardless of party, do you think one single state rep should be granted unchallenged authority to approve a resolution that grants Congress the unilateral power to pass an amendment that will redefine free speech as we know it? Or do you at least think it is reasonable for the public to be able to discuss, vet and debate both sides of the issue. If our elected officials respected the public enough to at least consider both sides then the question would be altered to say " favor of or opposed" but sadly it does not. VOTE NO on question 5.

Sean Slater | 2014-10-31 18:01:08