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Bonus Bill of the Week: Corporations Can't Vote, But Can Make It Rain

Austin Chronicle - Richard Whittaker
January 13, 2013

Hear the one about the guy in San Rafael, Calif., who claimed that he could use the high occupancy vehicle lane because, even though he was the only body in the car, he had documents of incorporation with him and, you know, corporations are people too.

The whole ridiculous concept that corporations are people reached its nadir with the US Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, which argued that the Koch Brothers-funded astroturf crew and any other corporation could dump as much money as they liked into elections, just as long as they didn't give it directly to campaigns. As Justice John Paul Stevens wrote at the time in the dissenting opinion, "While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics."

Arguably, Citizens United has turned out to be a big bust for the right. In the last election cycle, Karl Rove pissed unknown fortunes of other people's money up a rope, the National Rifle Association couldn't get a dog catcher elected, and the Koch Brothers' vast investment in voter antagonism simply made them house-hold (and broadly cursed) names. But, rather unfortunately, it opened twin doors of malice: Not only did it re-enforce the idea that corporations need love too have Constitutionally-protected rights, but it allows them to use their cash to drown out human voices. Money does not equal freedom of speech – not even close. But, rather unfortunately, the contrary argument has gained traction. Even the American Civil Liberties Union has fallen for this anti-Democratic stance.

That's why two Houston Democrats – Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and his long-time House counterpart Rep. Senfronia Thompson – have filed Senate Concurrent Resolution 2 and House Concurrent Resolution 21. This pair of measures propose that the Texas Legislature call on the US Congress to propose a Constitutional amendment overturning the SCOTUS Citizens United ruling.

In the text, the lawmakers echo Stevens' dissent. They write, "Discarding a century of precedent, the United States Supreme Court, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, swept aside long-standing campaign finance laws and cleared the way for unlimited corporate spending in elections."

Time for a quick lesson in constitutional history. Again from the text: "Article V of the U.S. Constitution empowers the people and the states to correct egregious Supreme Court rulings by means of constitutional amendment." In fact, seven of the 27 Amendments did exactly that. The Houston Dems want number 28 to do two things:

1: To clearly establish that that money does not equal free speech in elections, and;

2: To clarify that "only natural persons are protected by constitutional rights" and that corporations and companies only have 'rights' as far as they are granted by state, federal and local law.

Does either version of this resoluton stand much of a chance of passing through the Texas Legislature? Meh. However, that doesn't mean the lawmakers and their supporters aren't serious about it. There's already a petition with over 8,000 signatures backing the passage of SCR2. Next Saturday, Jan. 19, new network Texans United to Amend will be holding a rally in support of SCR2 and HCR21. Speakers will include Progress Texas executive director Matt GlazerEducation Austin president Ken ZarifisTexas AFL-CIO legal director Rick Levy, and Austin NAACP president Nelson Linder plus representatives from the Workers Defense League, Houston Area Against Corporate Personhood, and a show from the Stand On Up For Freedom puppet troupe.

Hey, let's make this a real test of the nature of democracy. let's see how many corporations turn out next weekend.


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