By Anthony Yang, Jamaica Scott and Andres Martinez
The conception of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights was to protect the rights of people—not businesses and corporations. Furthermore, these rights protect all men and women regardless of socioeconomic status. Such documents follow the moral premise that all men and women are created equal and therefore should have equal opportunities and an equal voice. However, this is far from the case in the United States today.
The U.S. Supreme Court Decisions
The U.S. Supreme Court, in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce (1990), recognized the negative socioeconomic and political impact of accumulated wealth by corporations and the destructive political power that has toward a republic form of government. Such recognition would come to realization following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) when the Court ended existing limits on corporate contributions to influence elections.
Then, in 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission abolished limits on the total amount any individual can give directly to federal candidates, party committees and affiliated political committees in any election cycle. These two decisions have opened the floodgates of financial contributions to political campaigns and resulted in elite control of electoral outcomes in the United States.
Unlimited funds are being spent in support of and against individual candidates and various ballot measures. Because of these two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions—by the slimmest of margins—disproportionate amounts of money from the corporations and the wealthy are being used to advance private interests over the common good. In the process, the interests of the people are overshadowed by the interests of the economic and corporate elite.
One example of this can be seen in the last decade, where $3.4 billion from the financial sector was used for political campaigns. In the last two years alone, $1 billion has been used to fund elections from this sector. Corporate and wealthy elites further advance their interests by swaying the electoral process in their favor while avoiding disclosure of their identities in advertisements. This is typically done by funneling their money through other individuals or political action committees (PACs) with misleading names. This strategic evasion allows the corporate and wealthy elites to magnify their interests above others, bypass laws requiring the disclosure of their identity and dominate the electoral process.
A National Movement Forms
Nationally, Move to Amend—“a coalition of hundreds of organizations and hundreds of thousands of individuals committed to social and economic justice, ending corporate rule, and building a vibrant democracy that is genuinely accountable to the people, not corporate interests”—formed in September 2009.
Move to Amend is calling for a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would “unequivocally state that inalienable rights belong to human beings only and that money is not a form of protected free speech under the First Amendment and can be regulated in political campaigns” (see http://vimeo. com/93687066 for sample text in video format).
On July 4, 2013, Oregon became the 16th state to pass a resolution in support of this constitutional amendment. To date, more than 550 cities and towns and 160 former and current members of Congress have indicated support for the amendment. Although California’s legislature has also passed a resolution of support, the California Supreme Court, on Aug. 11, 2014, removed Proposition 49 from the November 2014 ballot, denying voters the chance to direct California’s Congressional delegation to support a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling (http://www.moneyoutvotersin.org/).
Nonetheless, following the delivery of more than three million signed petitions to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, 2014, a majority of the U.S. Senate voted 54- 42 along party lines to support “The Democracy for All” amendment (S.J. Res. 19) to reestablish the authority of Congress and the states to regulate and limit campaign spending. Unfortunately, advancing the amendment requires a two-thirds vote.
A Fresno Affiliate Forms
Locally, a Fresno affiliate officially formed on June 13, 2014. To learn more about the group and to participate, attend a local meeting on the third Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. in the Conference Room of the College Community Congregational Church (5550 N. Fresno St.). Consider joining the movement to amend the U.S. Constitution defining the rights of people by signing the national petition at http://movetoamend. nationbuilder.com/petition.
At its Jan. 17 meeting, the Fresno affiliate of Move to Amend will show the film Pay 2 Play, in cooperation with and hosted at the Universal Unitarian Church (2672 E. Alluvial Ave.).
“In Pay 2 Play, filmmaker John Ennis examines how corporations have taken over our democracy as he follows outsiders using their voice to change the game in American Politics. He ventures through the high drama on the Ohio campaign trail, uncovers the secret history of America’s favorite game, and explores the underworld of Los Angeles street art in a humorous odyssey that reveals how much a difference one person can make.”
According to a review in the Los Angeles Times, “Pay 2 Play lays out a compelling case against corporate personhood and money as free speech… researched, sourced and interviewed exhaustively.”
Civic Engagement: Get in the Game to Take Our Democracy Back
The public exercises its governing power by voting, and that is the best way to counteract the effects of big money on government. If you want to make sure your rights are protected and have your voice heard, make sure you are registered to vote in your county by calling 800-345-8683 or visiting www.registertovote.ca.gov/.
Increasingly, corporations and individuals with money are using their wealth to magnify their voices beyond the average person in the United States. It is not against the law to help fund campaigns or electioneering communication. But, when only a few groups or people have the economic power to do so, then it becomes difficult for the democratic process to work in ways that will benefit those who need their interests to be heard but do not have the resources to leverage their voices.
This is not a partisan issue, as both Republicans and Democrats have become less willing to challenge corporate interests since the Court’s ruling in Citizens United; this is a people issue. Our democratic system should work to benefit citizens of the periphery as much as it benefits citizens in the economic center of society.
The economic elite should not be allowed to exploit the democratic system to favor its own private interests because they have the resources to do so. And lastly, we must uphold all laws during the electoral process and not only hold our political representatives responsible for what they are doing but also those who attempt to bypass the system of accountability entirely. For this, we must engage in and ask others to build a culture of transparency and lend our support to the passage of the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Anthony Yang (Psychology; anthonyyang@ mail.fresnostate.edu), Jamaica Scott (Sociology; firstname.lastname@example.org) and Andres Martinez (Sociology; avmartinez@ mail.fresnostate.edu) are students at Fresno State.