Ben & Jerry’s founders Ben Cohen & Jerry Greenfield are certainly no strangers to political activism. Nor are they afraid to use their business as a platform to drive change in what they see as an unfair system that favors wealthy interests and drowns out the voices of the voters. Earlier this year, the duo launched a campaign against Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling which allows for unrestricted and undisclosed campaign spending by corporations.
“Get The Dough Out” is aimed at overturning Citizens United by passing a Constitutional Amendment that will restrict corporate spending on elections. Ben & Jerry have a page on their website pledging support for the Occupy Wall Street protesters; and their “Scoop Trucks” will be deployed around the country this summer, giving away ice cream and asking people to sign postcards in support of their campaign.
To further support these efforts, one of the founders recently announced a new tactic that may straddle the line between activism and illegal action.
Kicking off on July 4th at the Occupy National Gathering in Philadelphia, Ben Cohen will be working with Move to Amend and Occupy activists across the cross country to send a very visible message to the American people. They’ll be distributing stamps with anti-corporate personhood slogans to be used for stamping money. The messages on the stamps include statements like “Corporations are not people,” “Money is not speech;” and “Not to be used for bribing politicians.” Cohen told Yahoo News that he also plans to put a giant stamping machine on tour in August to encourage “thousands of people to buy rubber stamps and stamp any currency that comes into their possession.”
David Cobb, National Spokesperson for the Move to Amend coalition, stated, “This action will be a way for citizens to express their outrage at the ties between big money and political corruption. Politicians rubber stamp legislation that benefits profit over people. We are rubber stamping money to remind lawmakers that they serve ‘We the People,’ not ‘We the Corporations.’”
You have to admit, it’s a creative and refreshingly tactile tactic that may help their message reach people who might not otherwise be exposed to it. But it also begs the question of legality. Isn’t defacing currency against the law? The Department of the Treasury says that it is; but it’s technically defined as any action that renders the money “unfit to be reissued” or makes it “unfit for circulation.” According to Cohen’s lawyer, stamping money is legal as long as the bills are still legible.
For the upcoming presidential election – which is the first to be impacted by the Citizens United decision – close to $2 billion is expected to be spent on advertising intended to influence the race’s outcome. According to Move to Amend, polling indicates that 80 percent of Americans are in favor of overturning the decision and a majority support a constitutional amendment that establishes that corporations do not have the same rights as people.
Ben Cohen also founded Movement Resource Group, which announced that it raised $300,000 of its stated $1.8 million goal back in February, ironically some of it coming from wealthy business execs. Since then, the organization has only been able to raise $100,000. Cohen told Yahoo News that he is not optimistic that he’ll hit his original goal.
I guess if he can’t raise the money, why not stamp it instead?
Kara Scharwath is a corporate social responsibility professional and marketing consultant. She recently received her MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School and is currently working as a Graduate Associate in Corporate Citizenship at the Walt Disney Company. Follow her on Twitter @karameredith.