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U.S. Supreme Court decision ignited grassroots effort to amend the Constitution

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In the fight over corporate influence in politics, one group is hoping the voice of the people can trump the allure of money.

Move to Amend South Central Indiana is part of a national movement pushing for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to restrict the cash flowing into elections from corporations and super PACs. Their goal is to pass an amendment that would overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which turned on the spigot of corporate spending.

Bloomington resident James Allison and his wife, former Bloomington mayor Tomi Allison, founded Move to Amend South Central Indiana. They have been speaking out against undue corporate influence for years, but after Citizens United v. Federal Election Commision, 588 U.S. 310 (2010), interest in their presentations and research spiked.
 

citizenunited-15col.jpg Move to Amend South Central Indiana held a rally Jan. 18 to observe the third anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. About 50 people attended the rally, which took place at the Birch Bayh Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Indianapolis. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

James Allison traces the rise of political spending to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, 118 U.S. 394 (1886). In particular, he pointed to the headnote, written by the court reporter, which he said has been “fraudulently cited” as the basis of corporations getting the rights of individuals.

Passing an amendment can take years, but James Allison said MTA members are willing to work as long as necessary. They believe petitions with millions of signatures and resolutions passed by municipal governments will sway Congress into action.

“This is how serious we are about this,” he said. “We’re not going anywhere.”

Cleaning messy rules

The fight is arising over Citizens United, in which the court ruled political spending is protected speech and therefore the government cannot prevent corporations and unions from giving money to either support or denounce candidates seeking office. These organizations are restricted from contributing directly to a candidate’s campaign but can try to influence the public by other means.

Citizens United did not usher in the era of corporate spending in politics, it just made it easier, according to Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, associate dean for academic affairs and professor at Notre Dame Law School.

Prior to the landmark decision, the rules for political contributions were very complicated and usually required sophisticated legal help to maneuver. A violation could have led to a federal felony charge.

Citizens United made contributing much cleaner for corporations and unions by establishing clear rules of what is and is not permitted. The psychological effect of the decision was significant, Mayer said. No longer did corporations and unions have to be nervous about making a political contribution.

Outside corporations and unions, the decision had a different kind of psychological effect. Many voters fear the money that could now flow into politics will diminish the power of people in favor of faceless entities.

Shortly after the ruling was handed down in January 2010, Move to Amend was founded. The nonprofit now has more than 150 local affiliates and endorsements from several thousand additional groups, according to David Cobb, national spokesman for MTA.

As its name suggests, the mission of the organization is to amend the Constitution. On its website, MTA has posted its proposed amendment. In broad terms, the amendment states a corporation is not a person and therefore is not entitled to the constitutionally protected rights of natural persons; and money spent to influence elections is not speech subject to the freedom protected under the First Amendment.

To remedy the problems induced by Citizens United, the Constitution has to be amended, Cobb said. Any federal law limiting corporate political donations could be overturned by the courts with no chance to appeal.

The judicial branch is an unelected, unaccountable body, Cobb argues, so it is not the appropriate role of the court to create new policy. That refrain against judicial activism is likely responsible for the group’s appeal to individuals all over the political spectrum.

“We have Democrats, Republicans, Greens, Libertarians – all part of a coalition of people who don’t agree on a lot but do agree corporations do not have constitutional rights and money is not speech,” Cobb said.

Scandal likely coming

Move to Amend has a simple strategy to reach its goal: Run a grassroots campaign by getting local municipalities to pass resolutions supporting the amendment which, they believe, will pressure Congress into action. To date, more than 450 city and county governments across the country, as well as a handful of states, have adopted resolutions advocating for the amendment.

Currently, the Bloomington City Council is the only government body in Indiana to have passed such a resolution, according to the MTA website.

Move to Amend South Central Indiana is now working to raise awareness of the amendment so other Hoosier cities and towns will follow Bloomington. In conjunction with the outreach effort, the group held a rally Jan. 18 of about 50 people at the Birch Bayh Federal Building and United States Courthouse to mark the third anniversary of the Citizens United decision.

At the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, professor of law Daniel Conkle harbors serious concerns about Move to Amend’s proposed language. Among the problems he pointed to was the removal of due process rights for corporations. If, for example, the government wants to build a road that transects a company’s property, under this amendment, the government could take the land without giving any compensation.

“They’ve written an amendment that seemingly is way too broad and goes beyond concerns expressed by the Citizens United decision itself,” he said. “I think there’s no chance in the world this amendment will be ratified.”

However, Move to Amend notes the language is only a suggestion. Cobb explained a constitutional response to Citizens United is a political question that is best decided in the political process. Should any amendment offered the Congress fall short, then the public can hold the elected officials accountable.

Also working to influence Congress, but in the opposite direction, is the Club for Growth, a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)4 organization led by former Indiana 2nd Congressional District Representative Chris Chocola.

Corporations and unions may have benefited from Citizens United, but advocacy groups like Club for Growth got a boost from SpeechNow.org, et al. v. Federal Election Commission, 599 F.3d 686 (D.C. Cir. 2010). Building on Citizens United, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that contributions from independent political organizations going directly to endorse or oppose candidates for federal office cannot be limited.

This decision opened the door for the creation of super PACs and Club for Growth led the way by establishing the first one, Club for Growth Action. During the 2012 election, Club for Growth Action collected and spent about $20 million.

Through the super PAC, Club for Growth is “able to receive more money because people want to participate in democracy,” said Barney Keller, spokesman for the Club for Growth. “Super PACs allow them to pool their money and have influence.”

In fact, Club for Growth is in favor of removing all limits on political spending. Keller called campaign contributions “one of the purest forms of speech” and compared government rules restricting donations to tyranny.

The flow of money into politics is unlikely to decline unless Congress reigns in contributions or requires substantial disclosure of campaign donors. Capitol Hill did enact legislation clamping down on political contributions and spending in the 1970s after Watergate, the abuse of campaign dollars that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

Although an incident would not have to be on the scale of Watergate, Mayer thinks it will take some kind of wrongdoing to spur Congress to act.

“I think that with the current make up of Congress,” Mayer said, “there’s not going to be any federal law (addressing contributions) until there is a significant scandal, and there most certainly will be.”•

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  1. I will continue to pray that God keeps giving you the strength and courage to keep fighting for what is right and just so you are aware, you are an inspiration to those that are feeling weak and helpless as they are trying to figure out why evil keeps winning. God Bless.....

  2. Some are above the law in Indiana. Some lined up with Lodges have controlled power in the state since the 1920s when the Klan ruled Indiana. Consider the comments at this post and note the international h.q. in Indianapolis. http://www.theindianalawyer.com/human-trafficking-rising-in-indiana/PARAMS/article/42468. Brave journalists need to take this child torturing, above the law and antimarriage cult on just like The Globe courageously took on Cardinal Law. Are there any brave Hoosier journalists?

  3. I am nearing 66 years old..... I have no interest in contacting anyone. All I need to have is a nationality....a REAL Birthday...... the place U was born...... my soul will never be at peace. I have lived my life without identity.... if anyone can help me please contact me.

  4. This is the dissent discussed in the comment below. See comments on that story for an amazing discussion of likely judicial corruption of some kind, the rejection of the rule of law at the very least. http://www.theindianalawyer.com/justices-deny-transfer-to-child-custody-case/PARAMS/article/42774#comment

  5. That means much to me, thank you. My own communion, to which I came in my 30's from a protestant evangelical background, refuses to so affirm me, the Bishop's courtiers all saying, when it matters, that they defer to the state, and trust that the state would not be wrong as to me. (LIttle did I know that is the most common modernist catholic position on the state -- at least when the state acts consistent with the philosophy of the democrat party). I asked my RCC pastor to stand with me before the Examiners after they demanded that I disavow God's law on the record .... he refused, saying the Bishop would not allow it. I filed all of my file in the open in federal court so the Bishop's men could see what had been done ... they refused to look. (But the 7th Cir and federal judge Theresa Springmann gave me the honor of admission after so reading, even though ISC had denied me, rendering me a very rare bird). Such affirmation from a fellow believer as you have done here has been rare for me, and that dearth of solidarity, and the economic pain visited upon my wife and five children, have been the hardest part of the struggle. They did indeed banish me, for life, and so, in substance did the the Diocese, which treated me like a pariah, but thanks to this ezine ... and this is simply amazing to me .... because of this ezine I am not silenced. This ezine allowing us to speak to the corruption that the former chief "justice" left behind, yet embedded in his systems when he retired ... the openness to discuss that corruption (like that revealed in the recent whistleblowing dissent by courageous Justice David and fresh breath of air Chief Justice Rush,) is a great example of the First Amendment at work. I will not be silenced as long as this tree falling in the wood can be heard. The Hoosier Judiciary has deep seated problems, generational corruption, ideological corruption. Many cases demonstrate this. It must be spotlighted. The corrupted system has no hold on me now, none. I have survived their best shots. It is now my time to not be silent. To the Glory of God, and for the good of man's law. (It almost always works that way as to the true law, as I explained the bar examiners -- who refused to follow even their own statutory law and violated core organic law when banishing me for life -- actually revealing themselves to be lawless.)

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