The Fight to End Corporate Personhood Heats Up

It’s been nearly two years since an intensely divided Supreme Court solidified the idea of corporate personhood by ruling that political spending by corporations is protected as a form of free speech under the First Amendment. Since then, that landmark decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Committee has allowed for unrestricted and undisclosed campaign spending by corporations, a concept that we are just starting to see the effects of as the 2012 election draws near.

Since the Occupy Wall Street protests began in September, there has been a lot of attention on the potential for political corruption by powerful corporations and the subsequent gross imbalance of wealth and power it creates. Over the past few weeks, it looks like there is finally some momentum starting to build in efforts to overturn the landmark Citizens United case, cut the ties between corporations and the government, and put an end to the idea that Corporations should enjoy the same rights as people.

Even before Occupy Wall Street, when the ruling in the Citizens United was made, it was met with a lof of opposition. The Supreme Court was split 5-4 and the ruling Justices were bitterly divided on the decision. In the dissenting opinion written by Justice Stevens, the opposing Justices argued that allowing a flood of corporate money into the political marketplace would corrupt democracy. President Obama called it “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.” And a poll conducted by the Washington Post shortly after the ruling found that Americans from both parties overwhelmingly opposed the decision.

Although Occupy Wall Street has been widely criticized for not having concrete demands, this issue is so clearly tied to the movement’s frustrations and objectives that it seems like an appropriate battle for the movement to take up and fight. Although the major protest camps in cities across the country have been shut down, the group’s home base has been moved inside to a small donated office space in Manhattan. Several Occupy groups staged protests at major ports in Los Angeles, Oakland and Portland on Monday which were successful in disrupting operations. The movement is at a turning point, and it seems obvious that the fight to overturn Citizens United would make a perfect strategic objective.

In Los Angeles two weeks ago, just days before being evicted by police, the General Assembly of Occupy LA passed a unanimous resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to end corporate personhood. A few days later, the Los Angeles City Council became the first major US city to unanimously endorse another resolution asking the United States Congress to amend the Constitution and establish that only living persons have constitutional rights. Lawmakers in Albany, NY voted unanimously on a similar resolution, and in November, voters in Missoula, Montana supported a referendum declaring that “corporations are not human beings.”

Then on December 8th, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders introduced the Saving American Democracy Amendment, which would overturn the Citizens United case and make clear that corporations are not entitled to the same rights as citizens. The amendment would also incorporate a ban on corporate campaign donations and establish the authority for Congress and the states to regulate election spending. The Sanders proposal is a companion measure to the OCCUPIED Constitutional Amendment that was introduced by Representative Ted Deutch of Florida in November. On Tuesday, Sanders announced on MSNBC that his online petition to get support for the amendment had reached 140,000 signatures in just five days.

In the video below, Chris Jansing gives a remarkable number that proves the importance of this action. The top four ad spenders in the Republican primary have already shelled out $12.5 million on ads, a figure she calls “staggering.” Two of the groups are Super PAC’s or Political Action Committees that can accept unlimited donations from corporations and do not have to disclose their donors. These groups would not exist had the Citizens United ruling gone the other way.

[Image credit: dopey, via Flickr]

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Kara Scharwath is a corporate social responsibility professional, marketing consultant and Sustainable Management MBA Candidate. She is currently working as a Graduate Associate in Corporate Citizenship at the Walt Disney Company while pursuing her degree at Presidio Graduate School. Follow her on Twitter @karameredith.

Kara is a corporate social responsibility professional and marketing consultant with expertise in consumer research and environmental science. Currently, Kara is working as a Graduate Associate on the Corporate Citizenship team at the Walt Disney Company. She is also a founding partner of BeSui Consulting, a boutique marketing consulting firm specializing in consumer insights and marketing communications.Kara graduated from Rutgers University with a B.S. in Environmental Policy, Institutions and Behaviors. She is currently pursuing her M.B.A. in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School where she is exploring the impact investing space and working to identify new ways to increase access to capital for start-ups and social ventures. Follow her on Twitter @karameredith.