Massachusetts Legislators Back Free Speech for People (Not Corporate Persons)

The corporatocracy rolls on in a wave of black goo, drowning pelicans and our representative republic.  Steps that could limit CEO pay or require disclosure of corporate election funding are killed or stalled.

But good news exists as well and it comes from the states.  Today it’s Massachusetts.  This is a model of how we will save this republic.

On January 21, 2010, a group of Massachusetts state legislators, led by Massachusetts State Senator Jamie Eldridge, will introduce the Free Speech For People resolution in the state legislature (PDF).  The resolution calls on the US Congress “to pass and send to the states for ratification a constitutional amendment to restore the First Amendment and fair elections to the people.”

This is a major step forward in building a broad-based movement to reclaim our Constitution and our democracy.  If you live in Massachusetts, contact your state legislators today and urge that they support this resolution.  If you live outside the state but have friends or relatives in Massachusetts, contact them today and urge that they do the same.

The passage of this resolution in Massachusetts can serve as a model for other states.

If you are outside Massachusetts, we also urge you to contact your state legislators and ask that they introduce the Free Speech For People resolution in your state.

The nation is at a crossroads.  Will we the people rule or will we face further corporate control?  We have the power, through the constitutional amendment process, to ensure that it is we the people, not the corporations, who shall govern.

Join in at https://freespeechforpeople.org

And read this:

STATEMENT OF JEFF CLEMENTS
GENERAL COUNSEL, FREE SPEECH FOR PEOPLE
Before
A Press Conference and Legislative Briefing
Announcing the Introduction of the Free Speech For People Resolution and the Massachusetts Corporate Political Accountability Act in the
Massachusetts Legislature
Monday, June 21, 2010, 12 Noon
Massachusetts State House, Room 222
Hosted by Massachusetts State Senator Jamie Eldridge,
Representative Cory Atkins and Representative William Straus

(Jeff Clements is the former Chief of the Public Protection and Advocacy Bureau of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.  Mr. Clements filed an amicus brief with the US Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC on behalf of five public interest groups arguing that the First Amendment did not shield corporations from campaign finance laws.  He formed Clements Law Office, LLC (http://www.clementsllc.com) in 2009 after returning to private practice from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.)

My name is Jeff Clements.  I serve as general counsel for Free Speech for People (freespeechforpeople.org).  Free Speech for People is a national campaign of public interest and business leaders, law professors, elected representatives, and thousands and thousands of people across the nation, who are working to overrule Citizens United v. FEC and the Supreme Court’s fabrication of “corporate rights” in our Constitution.  We will do that by amending the Constitution to protect our democracy and to restore free speech, fair elections, and self-government.

Citizens United and related cases that have created unprecedented corporate speech rights under the First Amendment are wrong as a matter of Constitutional law, American history, and basic principles of liberty and self-government.

The 5-4 decision by the right wing of the Supreme Court in Citizens United decreed that the American people are powerless to stop corporations from using billions and billions of corporate general treasury funds to determine the outcome of our elections at every level.

Think of that:  The largest 100 corporations alone have annual profits exceeding $600 billion.  And the Court now has declared that we cannot stop corporations from using these billions of dollars to elect, defeat or pressure candidates and elected representatives of the people, and that they can do so not only in federal elections, not only in state
elections, but even in local elections, town meetings, zoning board hearings, you name it.   As Justice Stevens and the dissenters state, this is a “radical departure from what has been settled First Amendment law . . ..”

Let’s be clear.  Corporations are not people; they do not speak; they do not vote; they do not serve.  Corporations exist because we the people decide through our laws to permit the creation of corporations with limited liability and many other advantages.  We do this for economic and policy reasons, and we have always reserved the right to regulate
corporate conduct as the people see fit.

Now, the Court has taken from the American people the fundamental decision about the proper role of corporations in our democracy, and instructed that Americans must live with political dominance by corporations.

We disagree.  We do not accept that we must live with political dominance by powerful corporations.  We do not accept that corporations have the same rights as people.

We are proud to stand with Senator Eldridge, Representative Atkins, Representative Straus, and millions of Americans across the country who are standing up for democracy, and standing up for free speech and self-government for people.

The Massachusetts Corporate Political Accountability Act would enhance transparency and accountability by requiring reporting, disclosure and shareholder and board approval for corporate political expenditures.  This legislation is very much needed, and we urge that the General Court enact it as soon as possible.

But as good as that legislation is, it will not be enough so long as the radical doctrine of Citizens United remains.  That is why it is so important that we also enact the Free Speech for People resolution calling on the United States Congress to send the 28th Amendment to the states for ratification.

The fabrication of corporate political and speech rights by self-described “conservatives” on the Court presents us with the fundamental question: Who is a citizen who participates in our democracy and serves the people?  We face again the fundamental question that Americans have confronted since the founding of our Republic more than two centuries
ago:  Are we, in fact, a government of the people, where every human being has an equal say and equal rights to participate in our democracy?

Make no mistake.  The creation of corporate rights to dominate our politics means that most people will not have an equal say, and we will not have a government reflecting the will of the people.

What can we do?   We can do what Americans have always done to make our democracy and republic work.  We can do what the nation’s founders intended and our Constitution provides: Adopt and ratify the 28th Amendment to the Constitution to overrule Citizens United, to reject the alien concept of corporate rather than human rights, and to return to
the people the power of deciding what place corporations play in our democracy.

Americans have used the Constitutional amendment process repeatedly to correct egregiously wrong decisions of the Supreme Court, from deciding that African Americans, “whether emancipated or not,” are not citizens and “had no rights which the white man is bound to respect” (Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1856)) to deciding that even if women were citizens under the 14th Amendment, they had no right to vote because the Constitution, according to the Court, did not guarantee the right to vote as among the fundamental rights, privileges or immunities of citizenship (Minor v.
Happersett, 88 U.S. 162 (1874)).  Indeed, following the adoption of our Constitution and Bill of Rights, the very first use of the Amendment process was to overrule the Supreme Court by adopting the 11th Amendment concerning lawsuits against states.

We have amended the Constitution 27 times, and 17 times since the ratification of the Bill of Rights. These Amendments corrected what the American people understood were improper restrictions on the right of all people to participate in self- government on equal terms. The 13th Amendment ended slavery, the 14th guaranteed liberty, due process and
equal protection of all, and the 15th guaranteed that the right to vote could not be abridged on account of race. Adopting the 16th Amendment, the people overruled the Supreme Court’s decision holding that Congress lacked the power to enact a progressive income tax. With the 17th Amendment (1913), the people insisted upon the right to elect Senators,
who previously were elected by the state legislatures. With the 19th Amendment, the people guaranteed the right of women to vote.  The 24th Amendment was adopted in 1964 to eliminate the poll tax, which was used to block poor people, often African Americans, from voting. The 26th Amendment in 1971, again overruling a Supreme Court holding,
ensured that the right to vote included men and women age 18 and older.

Now we must do so again.  In a matter of weeks after Citizens United, more than 50,000 Americans endorsed the Free Speech for People amendment resolution. Congress began to act, and there are now at least four amendment bills pending in Congress.  Resolutions calling for a Constitutional amendment have been introduced in at least eight states, as
well as in towns and party conventions as the widespread rejection of the Court’s ruling continues to build.

And this response is not a partisan one; it is an American one.  Poll after poll shows virtually all Americans opposed to the result in Citizens United, and this is the same whether it is Independents, Republicans or Democrats who are polled.

The Massachusetts Corporate Political Accountability Act is a critical immediate step.  But Americans must also re-assert control of our political destiny.  We must reject the twisting of the First Amendment to confuse artificial economic creations of state law with people who have inalienable rights and duties of self-government, and we must reject the misuse of the First Amendment that gives corporations immunity from the people’s laws regulating corporate conduct.  We can do that with the 28th Amendment, and the Free Speech for People Amendment resolution is a very important step forward to make that a reality.

We appreciate the leadership of Sen. Eldridge in this effort, and we are proud that Massachusetts once again is taking a leading role to ensure that government of, for, and by the people will thrive and will not perish.

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