Vermont Pushes Against Citizens United

March 8, 2012
Elizabeth DiNovella

Vermonters pushed for a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United during this week’s Super Tuesday vote.

The 2010 Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allows corporations to spend unlimited amount of money to influence elections.

Dozens of towns and cities took on this issue of money in politics. They passed initiatives and resolutions on town meeting agendas that called on the Vermont delegation in Congress to support an amendment making clear that corporations are not people under the Constitution.

The resolutions say, “In light of the United States Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that equates money with speech and gives corporations rights constitutionally intended for natural person . . . to urge the Vermont Congressional Delegation and the U.S. Congress to propose a U.S. Constitutional amendment for the States’ consideration which provides that money is not speech, and that corporations are not persons under the U.S. Constitution…”

They did this in Brattleboro and in Greensboro, in Jericho and in Montpelier.

“The only way to ultimately deal with the problem of Citizens United is with a constitutional amendment,” says Robert Weismann, president of Public Citizen. “The amendment is fast gaining momentum fueled by the outrage of the early portion of the 2012 election.”

Leading the effort is the Move to Amend coalition ( This coalition, made up of hundreds of organizations and tens of thousands of individuals, aims to abolish corporate personhood in the United States.

The coalition has a bottom-up strategy. Rather than starting in Washington, D.C., Move to Amend is working at the local and state levels to put a challenge to corporate power on the ballot. In 2011, Move to Amend resolutions passed in Madison, Wisconsin, Boulder, Colorado, and Missoula, Montana.

Move to Amend has a goal to be on fifty ballots for the November 2012 election.

Ben Manski, executive director of the Liberty Tree Foundation, attributes Move to Amend’s success to an anti-corporate movement twenty years in the making. An extensive network of organizations that had built relationships of trust were able to activate their network in response to Citizens United, he explains. “We were ready on January 21, 2010, and we launched Move to Amend on the same day the Citizens United decision came down,” says Manski. “That’s why we have so much momentum.”

Move to Amend organizers plan to pass resolutions in city after city until 50 percent of a state’s population has voted in favor of curbing corporate power. Then, they will approach the state’s legislature. After they get enough states on board, they plan on directing their efforts toward Washington, D.C. (Constitutional amendments require two-thirds passage in both the House and Senate, and three-fourths of states to ratify.)

It’s an extremely difficult road but Manski is optimistic, noting that Wisconsin may cross the 50 percent threshold this year. “Constitutional amendments, plural, are ways to enshrine democratic gains in law,” he says. “They’re the final way in which a society will say how we will govern ourselves.”

Margaret Koster is a former volunteer in the national Move to Amend office. She moved to Mendocino, California, and is now working a local group there to pass a ballot initiative. A retiree, she says she spends half her week on this.

“It’s a huge job,” she says. “Some people say it’s too ambitious to amend the constitution, and sometimes it can take generations.”

Koster believes it’ll be sooner than that. People are fed up with the political process, she says, adding there’s “some real political awareness and some real political actions going on, and there’s the Occupy movement.”

Ballot initiatives are a way to educate people about corporate power. “People aren’t always aware of the issues, as in the 125 years of corporations being given the rights of persons,” she says. “We have to get at the root of the problem.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, Independent of Vermont, has also proposed an amendment to the Constitution to exclude corporations from First Amendment rights to spend money on political campaigns.

“Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, Town Meeting Day voters understood that corporations are not people,” said Sanders. “The resounding results will send a strong message that corporations and billionaires should not be allowed to buy candidates and elections with unlimited, undisclosed spending on political campaigns.”

Follow Elizabeth DiNovella @lizdinovella on Twitter


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