The Orion Blog

by Scott Gast

February 21, 2012

In January 2010, in a court case known as Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court arrived at a 5-4 decision prohibiting government from assigning limits to corporate political spending. The decision, which will undoubtedly play a role in the drama of the 2012 presidential election, highlights a question at the core of the democratic process: should corporations enjoy the same free speech privileges as human beings? Jeff Clements doesn’t think so. An attorney and founder of the organization Free Speech for People, Clements has proposed a twenty-eighth amendment to the U.S. Constitution called the People’s Right Amendment, which would essentially reverse Citizens United. I spoke with Clements via e-mail about his new book, Corporations Are Not People, out now from Berrett-Koehler.

This book isn’t the only one to detail the dangers of corporate power, but it’s the only one I know that focuses on Citizens United. It’s a choice that feels deliberate. What is it about Citizens United that drew your attention?

Citizens United is a historic opportunity for winning fundamental change. By overturning a century of law that sought to keep corporate money out of elections, the Supreme Court made a very clear, loud, and dangerous statement about corporate power and American democracy. The vast majority of Americans know that this statement is wrong, and most people viscerally react against Citizens United—particularly as corporate money’s influence on the 2012 election continues to grow.

But the book is about much more than Citizens United, and much more than elections. Unchecked corporate power is an issue that affects everything: the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, the jobs and wages we have, the communities we live in. This didn’t “just happen”—for more than thirty years, the so-called “corporate speech” doctrine at the heart of Citizens United has been used to strike down environmental laws, public health laws, and common sense regulations of Wall Street. As a result, our government is far more responsive to the largest corporations and the tiny slice of people that control them than they are to us. And we’re all much worse off as a result.

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