It’s more than corporate money in elections

By Sarah Wittman

Guest columnist

Friends and Neighbors,

I think we have all known for a long time that our elected officials have forgotten who they really work for — we the people, not their mega campaign donors and large corporations. A congressperson’s schedule reveals how much more time they spend meeting with corporate special interest groups and lobbyists or rubbing elbows with CEOs at campaign fundraisers than meeting with their actual constituents.

Large corporations have found it very easy to spend time in Washington interfering and taking advantage of our political process because of the broad interpretation of the Constitution and the reinforcement of First Amendment rights to corporations in the 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission. This broad interpretation has allowed corporations to use these First Amendment freedom of speech rights to donate millions of dollars to political campaigns. This amount of money is vastly more than your or I could ever afford to contribute, and it creates a tremendous disadvantage to the average citizen. Who do you think is going to be first at the door asking for a favor when their politician gets elected?

Where in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights does it say that corporations should be guaranteed any freedoms? It doesn’t say that. It does say, “We the People.“

The federal judicial system has been granting constitutional rights to corporations as far back as 1819. Corporations’ use of these so-called constitutional rights affect not only our democracy but also our health and well-being. For example, they’ve used their First Amendment freedom not to speak, repealing legislation that required the labeling of food with harmful chemicals they didn’t want consumers to know about (International Dairy Foods Association MIF v. Amestoy, 1996), and overturned national laws requiring employers to post notices of employees rights (National Association of Manufacturers v. National Labor Relations Board, 2013). Louis K. Liggett Co. v. Lee gave corporations 14th Amendment equal protection rights in 1933, reversing laws protecting local businesses over chain stores.

The hijacking of our constitutional rights gives corporations overwhelming power in every level of government. The power that they now hold, because politicians and the court system allow it is creating damage to our democracy that only We the People can fix.

The only solution equivalent to the scale of the problem is the We the People Amendment, House Joint Resolution 48, recently reintroduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) with 68 co-sponsors. This proposed constitutional amendment would abolish both “money equals speech” and “corporate constitutional rights.” Section 2 of HJR 48 states that “Artificial entities established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state shall have no rights under this Constitution and are subject to regulation by the People, through Federal, State, or local law.” We the People, by the power of our vote will set the limits of corporate political contributions and remind politicians that we are in control of our democracy and they answer to us.

We the People, human beings, created corporations. But only the Supreme Court “gave” them constitutional rights. It’s up to us to define what corporations can and cannot do, not the Supreme Court. Enactment of the We the People Amendment is a necessary and urgent step toward authentic democracy — and taking back our human rights.

I urge you to contact your congressperson in the House of Representatives and demand that they cosponsor HJR 48. Contact our Senators and urge them to introduce a companion resolution to abolish corporate personhood and money as speech.

Join me in this fight for an authentic democracy.