December 15, 2011; Source: Mother Jones | As the nation heads into the 2012 elections, the nonprofit sector suffers the legacy of the Citizens United decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. Citizens United didn’t invent the use of 501(c)(4) tax exempts as vehicles for secret political contributions, but it unleashed virtually unlimited corporate and special interest donations hidden behind 501(c) walls of confidentiality. Democracy 21’s Fred Wertheimer has called Citizens United “the most radical and destructive campaign finance decision in Supreme Court history.”
Public Citizen, the Nader-founded good government group, is pushing a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. The website for the campaign for a constitutional amendment is Democracy for People (http://democracyisforpeople.org/), where Public Citizen is also pushing a “nationwide day of action” slated for January 12 (the slogan for the day is “Occupy the Corporations! Expose the Imposters!”).
The organization is pitching two possible versions of the hypothetical amendment:
Amendment text #1: “The freedoms of speech and the press, and the right to assemble peaceably and to petition the Government for the redress of grievances, as protected by this Constitution, shall not encompass the speech, association, or other activities of any corporation or other artificial entity created for business purposes, except for a corporation or entity whose business is the publication or broadcasting of information, when such corporation or entity is engaged in that business. A corporation or other artificial entity created for business purposes includes a corporation or entity that, although not itself engaged in business pursuits, receives the majority of its funding from other corporations or artificial entities created for business purposes.”
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Amendment text #2: “Congress and the States may make laws imposing reasonable restrictions on the speech and association of corporations and other artificial entities created for business purposes. This article shall not authorize restrictions not otherwise permissible on the freedom of speech or of the press enjoyed by a corporation or entity whose business is the publication or broadcasting of information, when such corporation or entity is engaged in that business. A corporation or other artificial entity created for business purposes includes a corporation or entity that, although not itself engaged in business pursuits, receives the majority of its funding from other corporations or artificial entities created for business purposes.”
The amendment movement isn’t limited to Public Citizen. Mother Jones writer Andy Kroll reports that both Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have introduced amendments. Several states have initiated efforts to overturn Citizens United as it applies to state races.
The problem is that the amendments aim to correct an errant Supreme Court decision—typically not the reason why amendments are supposed to be considered—instead of a shortcoming or flaw in the U.S. Constitution. But the DISCLOSE legislation that the Administration supported, which would have undone part of the Citizens United decision, failed to move through Congress—in part because of 501(c)(4) pressures protecting one or another special interest.
Do NPQ Newswire readers think that Citizens United should be overturned? If so, should it be done through legislation or through a constitutional amendment?—Rick Cohen