A coalition of 11 state attorneys general has sent a letter to Congress, urging support for a constitutional amendment to overturn a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows corporations and labor unions to pour unlimited funding into election campaigns.
The high court's Jan. 2010 landmark decision, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, paved the way for the intense "super PAC" action that has lit up the airwaves during this year's Republican presidential primaries.
The 5-4 ruling held that the First Amendment barred the government from restricting political expenditures by corporations and unions, striking down portions of the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act that prohibited such entities from financing costly television ads during election cycles.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, by Thursday the Restore Our Future political action committee that supports Mitt Romney had outpaced all other super PACs, raising $43.2 million and spending $40.5 million to help him achieve front-runner status.
However, several organizations have sprung up around the country among them Move to Amend and Free Speech for People opposing the notion that corporations are people and money is speech.
"This letter marks an important milestone in the movement to reclaim our democracy," Free Speech for People's executive director John Bonifaz said in a statement.
"[We're] proud to have worked with [Massachusetts] Attorney General Martha Coakley and other leaders," Bonifaz said, "in building new critical support for a constitutional amendment that protects our elections and the promise of government of, for, and by the people."
Along with Coakley, the other state attorneys general who signed their support were Joseph Biden III (Delaware), David Louie (Hawaii), Jack Conway (Kentucky), Jim Hood (Mississippi), Steve Bullock (Montana), Gary King (New Mexico), Eric Schneiderman (New York), Peter Kilmartin (Rhode Island), William Sorrell (Vermont) and Darrell McGraw (West Virginia). All are Democrats.
The letter, dated April 4, urged Senate and House leaders to reverse the "troubling" decision that overturned portions of the 2002 McCain-Feingold Act pertaining to corporate financing of electioneering communications.
"The major concern after the Citizens United decision was that it would unleash a torrent of corporate and special-interest money into the electoral process due to the flourishing of corporate spending," the letter said. The constitutional amendment would restrict First Amendment rights to natural persons, excluding corporations.
Ashley Sanders, organizer of Move to Amend Salt Lake, said the letter is a good step but the that proposed constitutional amendment needs to go farther and should emanate from a populist groundswell.
For more than a century, court cases have favored corporations with a broad array of human rights that span not only the First Amendment, Sanders said, but also the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth.
"My concern is that people will think this is all we have to do," Sanders said. "We have to set our sights higher. We're saying that corporations are not people and should not have any human rights."
Over the past five weeks, Move to Amend Salt Lake activists have gathered 6,300 signatures of registered voters in an effort to get a resolution on the city's November ballot stating that corporations are not people and that money is not speech.
Their effort is limited to Salt Lake City voters, and volunteers have until April 15 to clear the required threshold of 7,141 signatures.
The group has petitions available upon request at six business locations: Earth Goods General Store at 1249 S. 900 East, Dolcetti Gelato at 902 E. 900 South and also 4th Avenue and E Street, Free Speech Zone at 411 S. 800 East, Streamline Industries at 396 E. 2100 South, and Xmission Internet at 51 E. 400 South, Suite 200.
At 2 p.m. Saturday, Move to Amend supporters will meet in the atrium of the Salt Lake City Main Library at 210 E. 400 South for a large canvassing push.
"There's a fervency for the cause," said canvassing co-coordinator Nate Housley. "We've gotten support from all across the political spectrum and all neighborhoods of the city."
Activists have gathered 6,300 signatures in an effort to get a resolution on Salt Lake City's November ballot stating that corporations are not people and that money is not speech. They have until April 15 to get the required 7,141 signatures.
Earth Goods General Store • 1249 S. 900 East
Dolcetti Gelato • two locations, 902 E. 900 South, 4th Avenue and E Street
Free Speech Zone • 411 S. 800 East
Streamline Industries • 396 E. 2100 South,
Xmission Internet • 51 E. 400 South, Suite 200