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Nevada City Calls for a Constitutional Amendment to Limit Corporate Power


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By: Move to Amend Coalition

NEVADA CITY, Calif. March 30, 2012 - On March 22, the California State Assembly passed AJR 22, a resolution calling on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case. AJR 22 now goes to the State Senate Judiciary Committee, then to the entire Senate for a vote. The Citizens United decision allows corporations and unions to spend unlimited funds to influence elections, and has led to the formation of Super PACs that are releasing a flood of money in this year's presidential campaign.

Just one week earlier, on March 14, the City Council of Nevada City passed a resolution that went even further, by calling for a constitutional amendment declaring that constitutional rights apply only to "natural persons," not to "corporate persons," and that money is not the same as free speech.

When local resident Charly Price submitted the resolution to the City Council as an individual, he did not know that a local coalition was already working with national groups to raise awareness and build momentum toward a constitutional amendment. The local Move to Amend Coalition, made up of individuals and local groups, had been working to educate and to organize around this issue for several months. The group meets weekly in Nevada City and has given public presentations to many groups. In January the coalition hosted a Teach In at the Nevada City United Methodist Church which drew 150 people, and in February they organized a public presentation at Seaman's Lodge with a David Cobb, a national Move to Amend spokesperson. The event drew over 200 people.

When the local Move to Amend Coalition learned that Charly Price's resolution would be on the Nevada City Council agenda, they examined the language, strategized, put the word out through their networks, and helped get about one hundred people to turn out to support the resolution. It was after 9:30 p.m. when the City Council cut off public comments and voted unanimously in favor of the resolution. After the vote people broke into claps and cheers, then stood outside in the rain celebrating.

Local Move to Amend members brought their support to bear on the Nevada City resolution because it included two key elements: "ending the false doctrine of corporate constitutional rights" and declaring that "money is not speech." If the local resolution had simply called for overturning the Citizens United ruling, the coalition would not have supported it, because they believe it would not go far enough.

Support for a constitutional amendment to limit corporate power is growing. Nevada City is now among the dozens of US cities, including Los Angeles and New York, that have adopted resolutions calling for an amendment to abolish corporate personhood and to establish that money is not speech.

The Nevada County Move to Amend Coalition, which now includes Charly Price, is considering next steps in organizing county-wide for this campaign. They meet on Tuesday nights at 6:30 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall of the Nevada City United Methodist Church, at the top of Broad Street.

Background on Corporate Constitutional Rights

Since the late 19th century Supreme Court rulings have bestowed and gradually expanded the rights of corporations as "persons" under the law. For-profit corporations are state-created vehicles for producing wealth for their stockholders, but the "legal fiction" of corporate personhood gives them constitutional rights originally designed for human beings. This creates a huge power imbalance on the political playing field. Transnational corporations can marshal resources far beyond those of most people. They can relocate to anywhere, change nationalities, span continents, and exist in many places simultaneously. Their only conscience is the bottom line. Criminal corporations can pay token fines and still do business; there are no corporate three strikes laws and they cannot go to jail because they are non-corporeal. Corporations have no natural death—they can span centuries. For these and other reasons, "corporate persons" have a huge political advantage over limited human beings.

In 2010, the Supreme Court's Citizens United vs. the Federal Elections Commission decision worsened this power imbalance by ruling that the 2002 McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform Act violated the First Amendment rights of corporations and unions. As a result, campaign finance laws in many states were overturned, and corporations and unions were allowed to pour unlimited funds into election campaigns. There are organizing efforts underway to get all concentrated money out of elections through public financing of elections.

The Citizens United decision has been described as "money equals speech." In the case of corporations, corporate "speech" is tax-deductible! When corporations are given the same constitutional rights as people, large corporations come out ahead, since they can afford more "free speech" and political power than human beings. By spending massive sums they can create a megaphone so big that their message drowns out the voices of actual human beings. When money equals speech, it is harder for those without money to be heard. It is no wonder, then, that public policies are often skewed to favor large corporations, big banks, and the wealthy at the expense of poor, working, and middle class people.

RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF NEVADA CITY FOR CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT

WHEREAS, the United States Constitution and the Bill of rights are intended to protect the rights of individual human beings ("natural persons"); and

WHEREAS, corporations are not mentioned in the Constitution and The People have never granted constitutional rights to corporations, nor have We decreed that corporations have authority that exceeds the authority of "We the People"; and

WHEREAS, corporations can and do make important contributions to our society using advantages that government has wisely granted them, but the City Council does not consider themnatural persons; and

WHEREAS, United States Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black in a 1938 opinion stated, "I do not believe the word 'person' in the Fourteenth Amendment includes corporations"; and,

WHEREAS, the United States Supreme Court recognized in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce (1990) the threat to a republican form of government posed by the "corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of wealth that are accumulated with the help of the corporate form and that have little or no correlation to the public's support for the corporations political ideas"; and

WHEREAS, the United States Supreme Court in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission (2010) reversed the decision in Austin, and presents a serious threat to self-government by rolling back legal limits on corporate spending in an electoral process allowing unlimited corporate spending to influence elections, candidate selection, policy decisions and sway votes; and

WHEREAS, City Councilors have sworn to uphold the United States Constitution in our Oath of Office; and,

WHEREAS, Article V of the United States Constitution empowers and obligates the people of the states of the United States of America to use the constitutional amendment process to correct those egregiously wrong decisions of the United States Supreme Court that go the heart of our democracy and the republican form of self-government; and

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that it is the position of the Nevada City Council that organizations should not receive the same constitutional rights as natural persons do and that because money is not speech, limits on political spending will promote the goals of the first Amendment by ensuring that all citizens, regardless of wealth, have an opportunity to have their political views heard.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the City of Nevada City hereby supports efforts to pass an Amendment to the United States Constitution related to campaign finance reform and ending the false doctrine of corporate constitutional rights and, respectfully urges California's Congressional delegation to prioritize congressional proposal of an Amendment to the United States Constitution addressing the threats to representative government identified in this resolution so that the states may ratify it; and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the City of Nevada City calls on, other communities and jurisdictions and organizations like the U.S. Conference of Mayors and National League of Cities to join with us in this action by passing similar Resolutions.

PASSED AND ADOPTED at a regular scheduled meeting of the City Council held on this 14th day of March, 2012 by the following vote:

AYES: 5
NOES: 0

 

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