In January 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee that it was unconstitutional to limit political campaign spending by corporations, thus helping to usher in the current era of the “super PAC.” Today, Vermont’s state legislature became the latest to call for an amendment to the Constitution that would overturn the controversial court ruling and declare that “money is not speech and corporations are not persons under the U.S. Constitution.”
“This resolution is a reaffirmation of the belief, shared by many Vermont communities, that corporations should not be allowed to engage in unlimited spending to unduly influence elections,” said Shap Smith, Speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives, which passed the measure by a 92-40 vote. The state senate had already passed the measure last week by a vote of 26 to 3.
With today’s announcement, Vermont joins Hawaii and New Mexico in the growing grassroots movement to upend the 2010 decision. Similar measures are have made it through at least one legislative chamber in California, Alaska and Iowa.
“Most Vermonters don’t believe that the founders of our Constitution intended for business corporations, whose sole purpose is to raise money for their owners, to be able to participate, on behalf of those owners, in elections,” said state representative David Sharpe.
“Today’s passage shows that a movement for a constitutional amendment to take back our democracy has gone from being considered a ‘pipe dream’ to the mainstream. Vermonters should be proud to have a leading role in driving forward this historic movement,” says Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen.
The Vermont vote comes one day after a number of U.S. lawmakers held a summit on the growing movement for an amendment to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee.
That original lawsuit centered around a documentary about Hillary Clinton produced by conservative group Citizens United. It had wanted to advertise the film on TV in the month leading up to the 2008 Democratic primary, but that would have been in violation of the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.
In a controversial 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court said that portions of the BCRA violated First Amendment rights of businesses.
In writing the dissent for the court’s decision, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wrote:
Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their “personhood” often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of “We the People” by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.