Free Speech For People

  • May 7, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    In light of the hundreds of millions that “super PACs” are funneling into the forthcoming general election, as well as the waves of dollars that swamped the 2010 elections, it’s time for the U.S. Supreme Court to rethink its Citizens United v. FEC opinion.

    At least that is part of the argument that a coalition, including two national business networks and a Montana corporation, makes in a friend-of-the-court brief recently lodged with the U.S. Supreme Court.

    The vehicle for revisiting the controversial 2010 opinion, in which the Court’s right-wing banded together to push aside decades of precedent favoring the regulation of corporate financing of elections is the Montana Supreme Court’s ruling late last year upholding the state’s 1912 Corrupt Practices Act, and in the process providing a striking rebuke to the high court’s holding in Citizens United.

    Chief Justice Mike McGarth writing for the majority in Western Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. State of Montana said the high court’s Citizens United opinion did not preclude Montana from enforcing the Corrupt Practices Act. Today, the chief justice said, the state still had serious concerns about “corporate influence, sparse population, dependence upon agriculture and extractive resource development, location as a transportation corridor, and low campaign costs to make Montana especially vulnerable to continued efforts to corporate control to the detriment of democracy and the republican form of government.”

    One of the dissenters in the Montana case, Justice James C. Nelson called the concept of corporate personhood, integral to the Citizens United, “offensive.” Nelson continued, “Corporations are artificial creatures of law. As such, they should enjoy only those powers – not constitutional rights, but legislatively-conferred powers – that are concomitant with their legitimate function, that being limited-liability investment vehicles for business.”

    The 28-page brief shows in striking detail just how off the Supreme Court’s majority was when it declared in Citizens United “that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

    The brief’s author, Ben Clements, a board member of Free Speech for People, also a part of the coalition, in a press statement, said, “By granting corporations right to spend unlimited corporate funds on elections, at the expense of the people’s right to prevent the resulting corruption and distortion of our electoral process, the Citizens United ruling undermines First Amendment values and integrity of our republican democracy itself.”

  • January 26, 2012
    Corporations Are Not People
    Why They Have More Rights Than You Do and What You Can Do About It
    Jeffrey D. Clements

    By Jeffrey D. Clements, the co-founder and general counsel of Free Speech for People and founder of Clements Law Office, LLC. Clements is author of the new book Corporations Are Not People, which explores the disastrous impact of the Citizens United opinion on democracy and proposes a constitutional amendment to restore government to the people.

    As the nation increasingly embraces the constitutional amendment solution to Citizens United v. FEC, a new proposition regarding so-called “corporate personhood” is emerging. It’s a proposition, which the notorious Citizens United decision actually had nothing to do with.

    Last week, for example, my friend Kent Greenfield cast a skeptical eye, in an op-ed for The Washington Post, on the “anti-corporate activists” who support a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United. (My own view competed the next day in a Boston Globe op-edwith Congressman Jim McGovern, the lead sponsor of the People’s Rights Amendment.)

    As an initial matter, no one should assume that the 79 percent of Americans who favor a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United are “anti-corporate,” whatever that means. After all, 1,000 business leaders have called for a constitutional Amendment, as have legal scholars, lawyers, former state attorneys general, serving attorneys generals, dozens of cities and town representative bodies and millions of Americans.

    The argument that corporations in fact are “people” under the Constitution, or at least that we ought to continue the tacit amendment of the Constitution that pretends that they are, at least has the virtue of frankness. Less credible, is the argument that Citizens United and the larger “corporate speech” theory under the First Amendment is not really about corporate rights at all, but merely about protecting associational rights of people.

    Professor Greenfield argues that the Supreme Court in Citizens United got “the result” wrong but at least it asked “the right question.”  No, the Court got the result wrong because the Court asked the wrong question. The actual question before the Court in Citizens United should have been the question posed by a challenge to the corporate regulation component of the federal Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) – Can Congress create different election spending rules for human beings than for corporations?

  • January 3, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The Montana Supreme Court recently upheld the state’s century-old prohibition against corporate financing of elections, providing a striking rebuke to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 opinion in Citizens United v. FEC.

    In Citizens United the high court ruled 5-4 that corporations have First Amendment rights equivalent to persons, and therefore can funnel their expenditures into politics. Citizens United overruled long time federal regulations of corporate campaign financing.

    Montana’s high court, with two members dissenting in Western Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. State of Montana, said the Citizens United opinion does not nullify the state’s Corrupt Practices Act, enacted in 1912. The Montana campaign finance regulation was invalidated by a lower court state judge, citing Citizens United.

    Writing for the Montana Supreme Court majority, Chief Justice Mike McGrath said the state had never lost a “compelling interest to enact” the law. “At the time,” McGrath wrote, “the State of Montana and its government were operating under a mere shell of legal authority, and the real social and political power was wielded by powerful corporate managers to further their own business interests.”

    The chief justice continued that today concerns of “corporate influence, sparse population, dependence upon agriculture and extractive resource development, location as a transportation corridor, and low campaign costs make Montana especially vulnerable to continued efforts of corporate control to the detriment of democracy and the republican form of government. Clearly, Montana has unique and compelling interests to protect through preservation of this statute.”

    Jeff Clements, general counsel of Free Speech for People, a public interest group devoted to overturning Citizens United, lauded the Montana high court’s opinion, writing, “Corporations are not people. The Framers understood that. We are proud to stand today with the State of Montana to vindicate the Framers’ intent and to defend our democracy.”

  • November 9, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Right-wing policymakers triumphed impressively last year taking control of many statehouses from coast to coast. Many of those lawmakers were ushered into office backed by Tea Party fervor, and lots of money from the likes of Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers, who head Koch Industries and espouse efforts to radically constrain government.

    A year after their sweeping victories, however, some of their most outrageous policies were shelved by large numbers of voters last night.

    The frontal assault on public sector workers in Ohio, as noted by the Plain Dealer, was squashed by voters, 61 percent to 39 percent. In a guest post for ACSblog, Ohio State University law school professor Dan Tokaji noted that SB 5, which gutted collective bargaining rights of public workers, was a “center of Governor Kasich’s first year in office.” Tokaji said the defeat of the anti-workers’ rights law was not only a major setback to the Republican governor, but also has ramifications outside the Buckeye state. If the law would have survived, Tokaji said it would have dealt a “crippling blow to organized labor, drastically curtailing its political influence.”

    Mississippi provided a mixed bag, defeating a radical anti-abortion measure, but supporting a stringent new voter registration law. As noted by The New York Times, perhaps one of the night’s “biggest surprises” was the state’s rejection of a proposed constitutional amendment that would grant legal rights to embryos, effectively outlawing abortion and other forms of birth control in the state. That policy was advocated by a Religious Right group called Personhood USA, which says it is pushing similar measures all over the country, and doing so, in part, “to glorify Jesus Christ in a way that creates a culture of life so that all innocent human lives are protected by love and by law.”

    Following defeat of the measure, Keith Ashley in a blog post for Personhood USA said the group understands the difficulty of “changing a culture,” and that it vows “to continue on this path towards affirming the basic dignity and human rights of all people ….”  

    Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center of Reproductive Rights, hailed the defeat of the Personhood Amendment, saying in a press statement, “Outlawing medical services commonly used and relied upon by Americans in their personal lives runs completely counter to the U.S. Constitution, not to mention some of our most deeply held American political traditions and values.”

  • April 29, 2011

    In what is being billed as the first direct challenge to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC opinion, a coalition of groups has come together to help restore Montana’s century-old law against corporate politicking.

    Last fall, a Montana judge invalidated the state’s 1912 Corrupt Practices Act, which bans corporations from spending on elections, citing the high court’s Citizens United ruling. Citizens United struck down decades of precedent upholding campaign finance regulations, finding that corporations have free speech rights to funnel corporate dollars into campaign coffers. As noted in this blog post, the Koch brothers, head of Koch industries and prime funders of Tea Party activities, are taking advantage of Citizens United to push their employees to vote for far-right candidates.

    The Montana Attorney General has appealed the decision to the state’s highest court, and today Free Speech for People, a national campaign to overturn Citizens United, along with national and Montana business networks, lodged an amicus brief urging the restoration of the Montana campaign finance law.

    The friend-of-the-court brief in Western Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. State of Montana blasts the Citizens Union opinion as “an extreme extension of an erroneous corporate rights doctrine that has eroded the First Amendment and the Constitution for the past 30 years.” The brief adds that Citizens United “is contrary not only to our republic principles of government, but also to American principles of free and fair commerce among free people and the States.”

    Jeff Clements, co-founder and general counsel of Free Speech for People and author of the amicus brief, said in a press statement, “Corporations are not people. The Framers understood that. The First Amendment and the Constitution is for the people. We are proud to stand today with the State of Montana to vindicate the Framers’ intent and to defend our democracy.”

    See the coalition’s amicus brief here.

    Clements is also author of the ACS Issue Brief, “Beyond Citizens United v. FEC: Re-Examining Corporate Rights.” Clements also talked with ACSblog about Free Speech for People’s effort to advance a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Watch his interview here.