The following piece was published last week in MinnPost's "Community Voices" section to mark one of the decision's effects on Minnesota legislation--and to push us toward becoming the next state to call for a Constitutional amendment. The original publication can be found HERE.
Let’s mark ‘Citizens United’ anniversary by supporting bills that could curb its influence
Passage of measures before the Legislature would be a significant step toward a constitutional amendment to roll back the influence of big money in elections.
By Jeff Clark
Jan. 21 marked the 14th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling — a decision with wide-ranging adverse consequences for money and power in our politics under the guise of being considered First Amendment “free speech” for the corporate “person.”
One of these adverse consequences is now plaguing our new Democracy for the People Act as it relates especially to foreign influence in Minnesota elections. But first, some background.
President Obama claimed in his January 2010 State of the Union address that the Citizens United ruling “reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections.” Justice John Paul Stevens’ dissent in the case supported Obama’s concern (as quoted in Politico). And this 2022 Brennan Center for Justice article, “Obama Was Right About Citizens United,” confirms its reality.
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Now the blowback of Citizens United and foreign influence on elections in Minnesota has resulted in litigation.
Passed into law last year, the Democracy for the People Act (HF3) prohibits foreign-influenced corporations from spending in our elections as well as increases transparency about where all spending comes from (see Article 3, “Modernize campaign finance system to empower voters and increase disclosure of secret spending”). But the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce took the law to federal district court and in December 2023 an injunction against this prohibition was granted. Chamber President and CEO Doug Loon claims: “With this injunction in place, businesses can continue to exercise their ability — as `people’ in the eyes of the law — to participate in the democratic process without the fear of being prosecuted.”
The ability of our laws to identify and control undue money influence in our elections from any source, by entities that are not “natural persons” meant to be represented by those we elect, would not be compromised if our Constitution were amended to assert two principles: (1) Spending money is not equivalent to free speech and can be regulated by Congress and (2) An “artificial entity,” such as a corporation, union or other organization, does not have Constitutional rights as if they were the “persons” that the Supreme Court and Doug Loon claim they are. The idea of corporate personhood is what’s called a “legal fiction” and the courts have been expanding the so-called rights of this “person” ever since it was first raised by the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad decision in 1886.
We need Minnesota to become the 23rd state to demand that Congress draft an amendment like the We the People Amendment (HJR54). Once 34 states make this demand, Congress will have to act under Article V of the Constitution and prepare an amendment for the states to ratify. Defined by the two principles that money is not free speech and artificial entities are not persons under the Constitution, a ratified amendment would oblige the Supreme Court to recognize these principles when defending money and power in litigation that is adverse to public interests. This handicap can curb decision-making with a potential to harm all citizens.
If you want to give Citizens United a 14th “birthday present” that it deserves, have your state senator and representative endorse SF384 and HF1064 this coming legislative session. Once they pass, it will be another step toward a proposed Constitutional amendment that reflects the two necessary principles above. And once ratified by the states, that amendment would make legislation such as Minnesota’s Democracy for the People Act much easier to draft, pass and implement without serious challenge.
Jeff Clark is the co-chair of Minnesota Move to Amend, an affiliate of the national organization dedicated to building a healthy diverse democracy that represents “we the people.”