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Our own OpEd marks Citizens United's 14th troublesome anniversary in Minnesota

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.


Community Voices

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.


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.”

Have you read "Democracy in Chains" yet? Get started here!

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The survival of the planet is now at a critical point.  We are experiencing record heat, record wildfires, record hurricanes, record drought--as fossil-fuel oligarchs fund many of the organizations blocking climate change action. Their long-range, stealth plan is to transform the U.S. so that there are no constraints on the burning of fossil fuels.  Historian Nancy MacLean’s book, Democracy in Chains is a detailed history of their movement and endgame.

In the introduction, MacLean writes about the early 2010s, when something “extraordinarily troubling entered American politics” – from Gov. Scott Walker’s undermining public unions, Gov. Chris Christie’s attacks on public education, synchronized proposals to suppress voter turnout,  the all-out attempts to defeat the Affordable Care Act, and vicious, unprecedented nationwide partisanship.   Jane Mayer wrote in 2010 about the Koch brothers “war against Obama” with Dark Money.  But it wasn’t until MacLean unearthed Nobel prize-winning economist James Buchanan’s papers, shortly after his death, that we were able to see the “master plan behind all these assaults.”

MacLean’s detailed Democracy in Chains is not based on conjecture or speculation.  Buchanan was a radical libertarian and his papers included his correspondence with Charles Koch and their joint plans for the U.S.  One quarter of her carefully researched book is endnotes, documenting the abundant sources that support her account.

In the 1990s Charles Koch started working more closely with Buchanan, to convert his vision of the U.S. to a reality – a “free” society where there would be few limits on how the wealthy could make money and where there would be great restraints on the government asking for that money for any purpose – except for the courts, police, and military.  (All of which would likely have to be expanded because so many people would be angry.)

As MacLean writes, it is “the utterly chilling story of the ideological origins of the single most powerful and least understood threat to democracy today:  the attempt by the billionaire-backed radical right to undo democratic governance.”

Their vision of the U.S. is stark.  They don’t think the government should provide free public education, Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, toll-free roads, and clean water and air.  Most people wouldn’t vote for this vision of the U.S., so voter suppression is a key part of their plan. More than 400 voter suppression bills were introduced in state legislatures from 2011 to the present.

Almost every problem U.S. citizens face has connections to organizations in the Koch network. Whether it’s the U.S. response to Covid-19, defunding the CDC, demonstrations against masks, lawsuits against governors with mask mandates, increases in college tuition, or defunding public education, there are usually Koch groups involved.  .  The attacks on labor unions.  Right-to-work laws.  Laws to criminalize protest.  Attempts to defund mass transit.  Aggressive gerrymandering. Private prisons. Even the uproar over Critical Race Theory is being promoted by Koch-funded groups.  This uproar smears public education and is highly distracting at a time when schools need help containing the pandemic. The “Kochtopus” chart --with its links to so many organizations--gives some sense of the scale of their efforts. Though they present themselves as independent, the groups work together in a coordinated fashion.

MacLean writes that the Koch network’s “most important stealth move” was “to wrest control over the machinery of the Republican Party, beginning in the late 1990s...  The old Republican Party exists no more…  The Republican Party is in the control of a group of true believers for whom compromise is a dirty word.”  They don’t want effective government – they want people to see the government as broken, corrupt, and not capable of delivering services or running the country.  They want public services and resources privatized so that corporations can profit even more.

Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema both have Koch ties and are blocking important Voting Rights and infrastructure bills – bills that a clear majority of people want.   Manchin was the state chair for the Koch group ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) when he was a state representative. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce (which receives Koch money) has rewarded Manchin and Sinema for their stands against President Biden’s policies.

Two recent Koch-supported justices, Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh, assured that the Supreme Court voted to uphold the Arizona voter suppression laws, effectively gutting what remained of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Bill and paving the way for the acceptance of some of the hundreds of Koch bills to restrict the vote now in state legislatures. 

This critical time for the planet is also a critical time for democracy.   The Capitol Insurrection on January 6 was not simply a protest that got out of hand.  It was a serious coup attempt.  UnKoch My Campus published a report on the Koch network’s role in helping fund and organize it.  The voter suppression bills now in state legislatures are blatant attempts to win the next election by disenfranchising millions of voters. 

The Koch endgame is an Article V Constitutional Convention to permanently transform the U.S.  They now have 28 of the 34 state legislatures’ approvals needed for a constitutional convention.  Buchanan was an advisor to Pinochet when Chile rewrote their constitution in 1980. It has taken the Chilean people 40 years—and the 2019 uprising in which 29 protesters lost their lives--to gain the power to rewrite their Constitution.

MacLean’s message to us all is to mobilize: to get everyone involved in strengthening democracy.  We can’t make progress on climate change or national anti-racism reform or peace or labor laws or healthcare if we don’t have a functioning democracy.  Environmental groups, peace organizations, labor unions, veteran and church groups – all of us have to work together against this multi-pronged threat.  She encourages us to get involved in this necessary work in a way that is fulfilling for each of us.   “This could be an incredibly inspiring moment of democratic renewal - like Reconstruction after the Civil War and the New Deal and the 1960s.  We need many more people to get involved to make sure it’s one of these incredibly positive moments of transformation!”


Watch MAP's May 19 online discussion with author Nancy MacLean HERE

Watch the MN Move to Amend followup workshop, Discovering Personhood Timelines in U.S. HistoryHERE.

Imagining Real Democracy Discussion Series 2021 Schedule (Jan - Jun)

Imagining Real Democracy Discussion Series

2021 Schedule (Jan - Jun)

Printable version of schedule found HERE

DATES:  Jan 25,  Feb 22, Mar 22, Apr 26, May 24, Jun 28 (fourth Monday)

TIME: 6:45 pm social gathering; 7-8:30 pm discussion

PLACE:  from your home using Google Meet

RSVPPRE-REGISTRATION is required. Email [email protected] to receive an invitation to the online meeting connection, any schedule changes, and the readings in advance of the discussions. Type “Imagining Democracy” in the subject line and please leave your name, phone number and email address.

PREPARATION:  For each session there are pre-session readings or videos.  Though these materials are very helpful they are not essential for participation.

Read more

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