Activists gathered in front of Paseo Nuevo in downtown Santa Barbara on Saturday afternoon for a rally calling on the City Council to pass a resolution in support of a U.S. constitutional amendment to end “corporate personhood” — a legal doctrine that grants corporations many of the same constitutional rights as individual citizens.
The Santa Barbara chapter of Progressive Democrats of America hosted the rally as part of a nationwide movement called Move to Amend. Participants solicited signatures for the petition, handed out informational fliers and waved handmade signs for passing cars and pedestrians.
Ending corporate personhood would effectively invalidate the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in which it ruled that corporate campaign donations are a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment and therefore, cannot be regulated.
Event organizer and PDSB chairwoman Lois Hamilton said the unchecked power that corporations have to contribute large sums of money to political candidates has given them a huge amount of influence over the electoral system.
“We do not believe corporations are people and we do not believe their money equals speech protected by the First Amendment,” she said. “We want corporate money out of our elections. We want the people of this country to choose their representatives, not corporations.”
According to Hamilton, the group had 500 signatures on the petition going into the event and hopes to have at least 1,000 by the time they take it before the City Council next month. City Council members Grant House and Cathy Murillo have signed the petition, and Murillo attended the rally to show her support.
“I’m giving my effort as an individual, and to me, that’s a lot,” said the first-term council member. “I don’t go out on a limb on noncity stuff very often so this is a big deal for me to be out here. I’m not ready to start blasting the U.S. Supreme Court, but I do support this local grassroots movement.”
Several California cities — including Ojai, Ventura, Los Angeles and San Francisco — have passed similar resolutions along with six states, including California. There are also numerous bills being considered in Congress in support of campaign finance reform, one of which is backed by Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara.
PDSB member Michael Merenda said the group chose the Paseo Nuevo location because its heavy foot traffic allowed them to reach a maximum amount of people and make themselves as visible as possible.
“It’s a high-energy spot with a lot of people coming and going,” Merenda said. “There were group members who were worried about the police and I said, ‘No, no, no, don’t worry, many of the members are 70 and 80. They are not going to get too rowdy.’ Most of these people are retired professionals.”
Santa Barbara resident Antonia Robertson, who is co-chairwoman of the Move to Amend Santa Barbara affiliate, said the most important objective of the rally is to educate and make citizens aware that this is an issue.
“It’s amazing how many people do not connect the dots between Citizens United and super PACs,” she said. “A lot of the mission here is to educate. We’re not normally activists but this issue talked to us at some gut level, and we said, ‘Oh, my god, what kind of country will our kids inherit?’”
The Move to Amend effort aims to garner enough support from local and state governments to compel Congress to consider the amendment. Proposing a constitutional amendment would require a two-thirds majority vote from the House of Representatives and the Senate or a constitutional convention called by two-thirds of state legislatures.
“It’s a huge battle we have ahead of us, and it’s not going to be won overnight,” Hamilton said.