Proposed Constitutional Amendment Claims Money Is Not Speech

Proposed Constitutional Amendment Claims Money Is Not Speech

February 11, 2013, 3:38 PM

Feb. 12, 2013 -- Corporations, like people, have a constitutional right to spend money on U.S. elections. That's what the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010.

Once the court ruled, the only way to make it illegal for corporations to spend that money would have been to change the Constitution and spell out that corporations were not people.

But amending the Constitution is a notoriously arduous process that can take decades.

On Tuesday, Move to Amend, a coalition of hundreds of organizations and tens of thousands of individuals "committed to ending corporate rule," according to its website, moved to get the ball rolling.

Its first step was to introduce its We the People Amendment in Congress. The amendment aims to abolish all corporate constitutional rights and establish that "money is not speech."

Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., the lead sponsor of the bill supporting the amendment, is working with Move to Amend and said the need for change regarding campaign finance laws "has never been more apparent.

"We are in a constant state of paralysis," said Nolan, and Congress needs to do something about "corporations who have come to dominate the political process.

"The rich keep getting richer, the poor keep getting poorer and the middle class gets crushed," he said.

Nolan's proposal calls on the U.S. Constitution to "unequivocally state that inalienable rights belong to human beings only, and that money is not a form of protected free speech under the First Amendment and can be regulated in political campaigns."

The constitutional amendments Nolan proposes to abolish include the First, Fourth, Fifth and 14th, all of which contain language that accords "corporations ... this right" of free speech.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, an estimated $6 billion was spent during the 2012 election season. That figure, which is the highest in American history, trumped the second most expensive election, which reportedly spent $700,000.

The Move to Amend coalition, which has grown to nearly 260,000 people, has helped to pass nearly 500 resolutions in municipalities and local governments across the country since its establishment in 2009.

Nolan told ABC News that support for the movement was growing, but that he has yet to receive other sponsors for his bill. But he said that Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., was expected to join as a co-sponsor.

Move to Amend was initially formed to prepare for the Supreme Court's Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision in which the court held that the First Amendment excluded the government from regulating money spent by unions or corporations that supported or denounced individual political candidates.

Move to Amend aims to distinguish its proposal from others that have ignited since the Citizens United case. George Friday, a spokesman for the organization, said, "In every single community where Americans have had the opportunity to call for a constitutional amendment to outlaw corporate personhood, they have seized it and voted overwhelmingly.

"The Citizens United decision is not the cause, it is a symptom. We must remove big money and special interests from the legal and political process entirely."

To date, 27 constitutional amendments have been approved, six have been disapproved and thousands have been discussed. Of those figures, at least six other competing proposals have displayed ideas similar to Move to Amend's proposals, all of which have failed.

Their lack of success may be attributed to the difficulty of amending the Constitution.

Nolan said "painstaking" as the process can be, he's up for the challenge.

"It wouldn't surprise me if this took five or even 10 years," Nolan said. "But there is no doubt in my mind that the movement to amend will ultimately be successful."

To alter the Constitution, an amendment has to be proposed either by a two-thirds vote in both Houses of Congress, or by a constitutional convention.

The amendment then has to be ratified either by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states, or by conventions in the same number of states, depending on which means of ratification Congress proposes.

A convention, however, is highly unlikely. It was only resorted to once, for ratifying the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, which eliminated Prohibition. All other constitutional amendments were proposed by Congress.

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