Bernie Sanders: Time to Amend the Constitution
Corporations Are Not People
The Constitution of this country has served us well, but when the Supreme Court says that attempts by the federal government and states to impose reasonable restrictions on campaign ads are unconstitutional, our democracy is in grave danger. That is why I have introduced a resolution in the Senate calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
I did not do this lightly. In fact, I had never done it before. The U.S. constitution is an extraordinary document. In my view, it should not be amended often. In light of the Supreme Court’s infamous 5-to-4 decision in the Citizens United case, however, I saw no alternative.
I strongly disagree with the ruling. In my view, a corporation is not a person. A corporation does not have First Amendment rights to spend as much money as it wants, without disclosure, on a political campaign.
Corporations should not be able to go into their treasuries and spend millions and millions of dollars on a campaign in order to buy elections.
The ruling has radically changed the nature of our democracy. It has further tilted the balance of the power toward the rich and the powerful at a time when the wealthiest people in this country already never had it so good. History will record that the Citizens United decision is one of the worst in the history of our country.
At a time when corporations have more than $2 trillion in cash in their bank accounts and are making record-breaking profits, the American people should be concerned when the Supreme Court says that these corporations have a constitutionally-protected right to spend shareholders’ money to dominate an election as if they were real, live persons. If we do not reverse this decision, there will be no end to the impact that corporate interests can have on our campaigns and our democracy.
According to an Oct. 10, 2011, article in Politico, “the billionaire industrialist brothers David and Charles Koch plan to steer more than $200 million — potentially much more — to conservative groups ahead of Election Day 2012.” Others are doing the same thing.
Does anybody really believe that that is what American democracy is supposed to be about?
Think about the consequences in Congress. When an issue comes up that impacts Wall Street, like breaking up huge banks, what will senators be thinking about when they decide how to vote? Every member of the Senate, every member of the House, in the back of their minds will be asking this: If I cast a vote this way, if I take on some big-money interest, am I going to be punished? Will a huge amount of money be unleashed in my state?
It’s not just taking on Wall Street. Maybe it’s taking on the drug companies. Maybe it’s taking on the private insurance companies. Maybe it’s taking on the military-industrial complex. Whatever powerful and wealthy special interests members of Congress are prepared to take on — on behalf of the interest of the middle class and working families of this country — they will know in the back of their mind that there may be a flood of money coming in to their state. They’re going to think twice about how to cast that vote.
When the Supreme Court says that for purposes of the First Amendment, corporations are people, that writing checks from the company’s bank account is constitutionally-protected speech and that attempts by the federal government and states to impose reasonable restrictions on campaign ads are unconstitutional, when that occurs, our democracy is in grave danger.
I am a proud sponsor of a number of bills that would respond to Citizens United and begin to get a handle on the problem. But more needs to be done, something more fundamental and indisputable, something that cannot be turned on its head by a Supreme Court decision. That is why I proposed the constitutional amendment in the Senate as a companion measure to an amendment proposed in the House of Representatives by Congressman Ted Deutch.
We have got to send a constitutional amendment to the states that says simply and straightforwardly what everyone – except five members of the United States Supreme Court – understands: Corporations are not people with equal constitutional rights. Corporations are subject to regulation by the people. Corporations may not make campaign contributions — the law of the land for the last century. And Congress and states have the power to regulate campaign finances.