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"How Do We Build A Mass Movement to Reverse Runaway Inequality?" with Les Leopold, author of "Runaway Inequality: An Activist's Guide to Economic Justice,"May 22, 2016, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York, 860 11th Ave. (Between 58th and 59th), New York City. Between The Lines' Scott Harris and Richard Hill moderated this workshop. Listen to the audio/slideshows and more from this workshop.
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Posted Feb. 15, 2012
Interview with Jeff Clements, author of the book, "Corporations Are Not People", conducted by Scott Harris
Although President Obama opposed the Supreme Court’s January 2010 Citizens United decision that eliminated many limits on corporate contributions to election campaigns, he symbolically threw in the towel in early February to endorse Super Political Action Committees or Super PACs created by the decision. With his endorsement, Obama joined Republican presidential candidates who are already using Super PACs, and urged his supporters to make donations to the Priorities USA Super PAC, established to make unlimited expenditures on the president’s behalf in the 2012 election campaign. But as the White House made this announcement, a press release stated that “President favors action – by constitutional amendment, if necessary – to place reasonable limits on all such spending.”
In response to the Citizens United decision that opened the floodgates to record amounts of unlimited and anonymous corporate campaign cash, a number of national groups are campaigning to overturn the high court decision. Activists are gathering petition signatures and urging the passage of resolutions at the city and state level in support of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would reverse the court’s declaration in Citizens United, that corporations have the same rights as "living, natural persons."
Between the Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Jeff Clements, co-founder and general counsel with the Free Speech for People campaign and author of the book, “Corporations Are Not People; Why They Have More Rights Than You do, and What You Can Do About It.” He talks about the impact the Citizens United decision has had on increased spending in the 2012 election campaign, and the grassroots effort to reverse that decision and strengthen democracy.
JEFF CLEMENTS: The corporate spending and secret spending and massive spending by billionaires and millionaires in the federal races since Citizens United (was) decided -- and in state races of others with data on that -- has just been extraordinary. It's leaped by multiple factors. So in 2010, the midterm elections -- it was the first election after Citizens United -- was the most expensive election in American history. Four billion dollars was spent on various races, and at least hundreds of millions of those dollars came from sources that we're not really sure where the money came from, whether it's corporate money or not corporate money.
The sad thing is, despite that massive expenditure and the corrupting influence of the corporate money in that election, 60 percent of eligible voters do not bother to vote. We're now seeing much worse in the 2012 election in the primaries already and we'll see, it will get worse to come. And we're starting to get data on it that shows the vast, vast majority upwards of something like 97 percent of the super PAC money in the Republican primaries -- and Obama's going to use a super PAC, too. But 97 percent of (Mitt) Romney's super PAC, for example, of the money that comes into that comes in increments of greater than $10,000.
So that isn't a super PAC collecting money from interest in citizens. We know that some of the money -- again, it's hard because there's no disclosure requirements; there's technical disclosure requirements for super PACs, but they're easily evaded. So we only know pieces of it. But we know that big energy companies like Alpha, the Global Coal Corp. is putting money into super PACs like America Crossroads. We know that News Corporation and other corporations put money into the 2010 election and the current election. So it has had an immediate impact on the election, no question.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Jeffrey, after a century of precedent on the Supreme Court in this country to keep the large amounts of corporate cash out of our election campaigns, how is it that the Supreme Court, the Roberts court, overturned that precedent? There has been speculation that the Robert court has had undue influence by the billionaire Koch brothers and others who wined and dined them and had them in special secret meetings. Is there any validity to those theories and what do you think really is happening that has dramatically changed our campaign financial law?
JEFF CLEMENTS: You know the validity to those particular concerns -- I think there's some validity, but I would put it in the larger context. The problem is corporate influence at all levels. It's corporate influence, corporate power, assertion throughout our government. And unfortunately, sadly it has affected our judiciary, too. But I think we would miss the real story if we just look for a connection to the Koch brothers, for instance, because Citizens United, in my view -- and the story I tell in the book is -- it's really the endgame of a sustained, very well-funded, corporate campaign to twist the Constitution and take rights in order to undermine democracy.
I think it goes back to 1970 or so when Lewis Powell famously wrote what's called the Powell memo. It was secret at the time, to the Chamber of Commerce advising the corporations do exactly this. He went on the Supreme Court. He wrote at least four decisions creating the notion, something called "corporate speech" which had never existed in American history. He built a majority for this doctrine and it has been used well before Citizens United to strike down environmental laws, public health laws and worker protection laws, financial regulation. In that sense, if you look at it from sort of that long view of corporations creating by sustained litigation, filing of briefs, funding of legal foundations, funding of I'd say corporatist -- more than conservative -- judicial doctrine, Citizens United is almost the logical next step. If corporations have rights to strike down all these other laws, the election law is even more important if you have constitutional rights and the logic is impeccable. It's also catastrophically wrong.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Jeff, I wanted to ask you in terms of the effort underway now to overturn the Citizens United decision in this unlimited, and unaccountable corporate cash coming into our campaign finance system. What is the most direct and in your view, the way that could be most successful in overturning that Supreme Court decision?
JEFF CLEMENTS: Well, the most important thing is to challenge the constitutional distortion, the fabrication that this case has created. And the way those kind of disputes are resolved in America is through the constitutional amendment process. So that process will need a two-thirds vote of Congress. At some point it will need three-quarters of the states to ratify it. But in the meantime, by driving that amendment conversation, we need the people's rights amendment; we need the amendment to overturn the idea as well that money is speech. We'd need to do it everywhere, cities and towns during resolutions. That's happening right now all over the country. It's happening with a lot of different groups and I think that's the key. We need to not to argue too much about what the exact languages is. We'll get that in terms of the amendment. There will be a big debate. There's plenty versions of them pending in Congress right now. But we need to do all of the resolution campaigns in cities, towns, states. So I wish I had a nice easy answer, that there's only thing you have to do, but actually we have to do all of those things.
Find more information on the grassroots campaign to overturn the Citizens United decision on corporationsarenotpeople.com/.