By Betsy Levinson

Concord Patch

April 6, 2011

A Concord attorney is raising an alarm about the influence of corporate profits in the political process, and wants to overturn the year-old Supreme Court decision, the so-called Citizens United case, that gave corporations free rein to influence public elections.

Jeff Clements spoke at the Village University class on the U.S. Constitution given by Janet Beyer. The Citizens United case, Beyer said, has become Clements’ “passion.”

The 2010 decision struck down the McCain Feingold campaign finance law that put restrictions on corporate influence in political campaigns. McCain Feingold was a bipartisan effort, Clements said, with both Democrats and Republicans voting for it.

But a year ago, Clements said, the Supreme Court overturned that law in favor of unlimited corporate money to influence elections. Clements said Justices Sam Alito and John Roberts were the prime movers in hearing the case.

He said Citizens United is a nonprofit Virginia organization that wanted to run an unflattering movie about then-candidate Hillary Clinton in 2008, called, “Hillary.” It was a biased work which, the organization hoped, would turn voters against Clinton.

“It was a feature length political ad,” said Clements.

The courts said that because the movie/ad was a political advocacy against a candidate, the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act ban on corporate money to pay for and distribute the ad applied, Clements said. People who wanted to advocate against Hillary Clinton, even with the movie/ad were free to do it. They just couldn’t do it with corporate money within 60 days of the election.

But the two Bush appointees wanted to take the case, and eventually in a 5-4 vote, long after the election and any impact the movie may have had, the justices voted that corporate money could be deemed speech and must be kept free.

Clements said Justice John Paul Stevens, in his dissent, wrote eloquently about the principles the law was dismantling. Clements said Stevens’ dissent was 90-pages long, “but well worth reading.”

“It was his last message to the people,” said Clements. He said Stevens, a Republican appointee, was “hardly a lefty,” but wrote that corporations are not people deserving of free speech.

“The decision was a radical departure from the first amendment law,” said Clements. He said Justice Kennedy, in the majority, said corporate money was a form of speech and should be free of Congressional regulation.

“The ruling said previous laws were wrong,” said Clements said. He gave statistics about corporate lobbying around healthcare, alternative energy and other Congressional initiatives that have been influenced by big corporations.

The solution, Clements said, is to amend the Constitution. He said it would be the 28th amendment, each one correcting a wrong, or overruled an erroneous Supreme Court decision, that was in the original document, and each one expanding individual freedoms. He gave examples such as women’s and blacks’ right to vote; a graduated income tax; 18-year-olds voting; and of course the first 10 in the Bill of Rights.

“It’s not that unusual,” said Clements. “We can see all the way through U.S. history that people have sought to limit corporate power.”

“This should be scandalous, but what is appalling is that it isn’t,” said Clements.

He said in 2003, the Medicare Part D was enacted which banned negotiating with drug companies so the money just went from the taxpayer to the drug companies, no questions asked.

“A Republican Congressman from North Carolina said that the pharmaceutical lobby wrote the bill,” said Clements.

He said energy is the same way, with intense and obscenely expensive lobbying in support of the coal and oil industries to the exclusion of alternative energy companies. Clements said it crushes innovation.

“Shame on us if we don’t to it now,” he said of amending the Constitution and dethroning lobbyists. He said 1992 was the last amendment which ruled that pay raises could take effect only after a subsequent election so that Congress would not be granting raises for themselves.

Clements’ organization, Free Speech for People, has information on the amendment’s progress. He testified a year ago before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the negative effects of the decision. Two U.S. Representatives: John Conyers of Michigan and Donna Edwards of Maryland, have introduced an amendment resolution in the House of Representatives with 27 co-sponsors.

“In the Senate, John Kerry, Christopher Dodd, Arlen Specter, and Tom Udall have led the call for a Constitutional amendment to restore the fundamental premise that in a self-governing democracy, it is people not corporations, who debate, vote, serve, and if necessary, die for our nation and the rights that protect our freedom,” Clements wrote to the Judiciary Committee.

Photo by spatuletail /