A Pledge Supporting an End to Corporate Personhood and Getting Money Out of Politics

We need to take a page out of Grover Norquist's book. He has managed to take over the entire Congressional process, getting the majority of the House and many members of the Senate to sign a pledge promising to never raise taxes. Politicians that don't sign it face the prospect of losing re-election. I think we've got to make a similar pledge statement and ask our Congressmen and future candidates that run to sign it. It would go something like this.

 I [Name] pledge to end corporate personhood, get money out of politics, and will no longer accept contributions from corporations, lobbyists, and special interest groups.

You are free to amend the pledge. Let's agree on the wording and send it out to everyone involved in the political process today. 

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I doubt we will be able to get anyone (except maybe Bernie Sanders) to sign a pledge that won't allow them to accept contributions from corporations, lobbyists, and special interest groups because it would be political suicide. Any poor bastard who signed it would be plowed under in the next election by a wave of attack ads bought by corporate money.

Your wording is resonant: "I [Name] pledge to end corporate personhood, [and] get money out of politics." It has the advantage of being easily understandable and already in the public conversation. I think it would be an excellent heading for the pledge.

However, if you leave it at that, there is plenty of room to weasel, as you can tell by looking at all the competing constitutional amendments that leave loopholes for corporate money to seep through.

The Move To Amend amendment, while not perfect, has very strong language on corporate personhood, which we could adopt in whole or in part:

"Section 1 [A corporation is not a person and can be regulated]

The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only.  

Artificial entities, such as corporations, limited liability companies, and other entities, established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state shall have no rights under this Constitution and are subject to regulation by the People, through Federal, State, or local law.

The privileges of artificial entities shall be determined by the People, through Federal, State, or local law, and shall not be construed to be inherent or inalienable."

Section 3 

Nothing contained in this amendment shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.

That leaves getting money out of politics.

I would argue that we go with publicly funded elections, i.e. all political spending, on elections, propositions, initiatives, etc., etc. must be publicly funded, at the federal, state, and local levels. How to word this in an elegant way? Beats me. Maybe some lawyers in the audience can come up with something.

I've thought about it a little more, and I'm going to reverse myself on making the language more specific. I think imitating Norquist's pledge is the way to go. I've taken a look at the Americans For Tax Reform website, and the language is really simple. A pledge is probably not the place to get into legislative minutiae.

So here's my latest suggestion:

"I [Name] pledge to end corporate personhood and get money out of politics, by means of a constitutional amendment and subsequent legislation."

Using the example of American For Tax Reform again, I suggest that we have separate petitions for the U.S. House, The U.S. Senate, Governors, and State Legislators.

Furthermore, I suggest that this petition be offered not only to all incumbents, but to all candidates for office, too, and that it be an absolute litmus test. We will ONLY vote for a candidate which signs the petition.

Finally, I suggest that someone (I will be glad to do it) create a website which maintains lists of all the signers of the petition in all 50 states. In order to make this doable, I suggest that we have a contributor for each state, who can keep up with the latest signers in their state, and a main administrator of the website.

Lindsay,

The problem with going any route besides corporate personhood is that the Supreme Court will instantly strike down any attempt to control campaign spending as unconstitutional. Remember, the Supreme Court has ruled that money is speech. If corporations are people, they have the right to free speech. Therefore, they have the constitutionally protected right to spend all the money they want to influence our politics.

Have you checked out the Americans For Tax Reform site? It's actually rather well done.That was my model for the revised pledge.

About Blackwood...Move To Amend has a small army of lawyers behind them. I doubt they would have gone the route they had if corporate personhood was truly part of common law. If it is, and cannot be challenged (I rather doubt it), then we are sunk as a republic.

Getting money out of politics (impossible without ending corporate personhood) is absolutely crucial if we are going to make any systemic change short of revolution.

Mr. Blue

 

Here is the actual cite from Blackstone.

Blackstone's Commentaries (11th edition, 1791), volume 1, p. 467 (ch. 18, "Of Corporations"):

"We have hitherto considered persons in their natural capacities, and have treated of their rights and duties. But, as all personal rights die with the person; and, as the necessary forms of investing a series of individuals, one after another, with the same identical rights, would be very inconvenient, if not impracticable; it has been found necessary, when it is for the advantage of the public to have any particular rights kept on foot and continued, to constitute artificial persons, who may maintain a perpetual succession, and enjoy a kind of legal immortality.

These artificial persons are called bodies politic, bodies corporate, . . . or corporations: of which there is a great variety subsisting, for the advancement of religion, of learning, and of commerce; in order to preserve entire and for ever those rights and immunities, which, if they were granted only to those individuals of which the body corporate is composed, would upon their death be utterly lost and extinct."

I haven't really researched it thorougly.  The reference in Blackstone affirming personhood for corporations was intended , as I understand from commentary, to insure public recurse to corporations for wrongdoing..to insure that wrongdoing could not be shielded by virtue of incorporation (in a partnership there is no artificial person created.the wrongdoing of the business venture falls to the individuals who form thepartnership ("jointly and severally").  That is not so of a corporation.

I have seen it argued, with reference to Citizens United that although Santa Clara v Southern Railroad, the case cited in Citizens United,  may have been a flawed decision ( the whole headnote issue I referred to elsewhere ere at Occupy Cafe), the underlying affirmation of corporate personhood  to which the head note referred is correct and is found in this cite in Blackstone.  This arguement, of course is what is advanced by those opposed to any challenge in any form of Citizens United

.The key phrase seems to be.."when it is to the advantage of the public"  which might be the basis on which the 28th ammnedment is based..not to contradict Blackstone but to clarify that it it is not in the public interest to allow corporate money as free speech in our electoral process.

I only took note of the fact that Schumer & others who are pushing the refim bill have made a particular point of saying the bill "does not challenge corporate personhood"

 

I am mentioning it here only with the idea we may no want to use that phrase "corporate personhood" or "end corporate personhood" as our objective.  Our objective is to end the influence of corporate money on our electoral process and our legislative process is it not?

 

Just one further note on the Blackstone reference, and again not offered with any claims to being an authority in the matter, it may be that since Citizens United which did for all intent and purposes refer to Blackstone..to this section of Blackstone, referred to "free speech" which is not part of common law..that was an American Innovation,and may therefore have no relevance in determining whether the constitution intended the extension of "free speech" and the other unique freedoms not in common law to "corporations" to other than natural persons.  But then why get entangled in an arguement about Corporations have "free speech" when what we want is an electoral and legisltaive process untainted by corporate influence.

In any event while i am still personally supporting the 28th amendment, I am only putting out for consideration a red flag on making "corporate personhood" the central issue in any pledge, as it is in your amended pledge.  I am suggesting that we stay clearly focused in our llanguage and our pledge, if any, on ending corporat einfluence on our electoral and legislative process.

Tthe term "corporate personhood" has become I think a bit of a red herring.

I see what you are saying. Indeed, Blackstone talks about corporations as having the status of artificial persons, and there is nothing wrong with that.

The problem has been that the 14th amendment referred to "persons" instead of "natural persons," giving the railroad lawyers a loophole to give corporations the rights of natural persons. We must address this for the reasons I mentioned above. If we only address getting money out of politics in the pledge, then we give our elected officials a way to weasel out of actually changing anything. All they have to do is pass some sort of campaign finance law (like McCain/Feingold) and wait for it to be shot down by the Supreme Court.

I am in no way arguing that corporations should not have the status of artificial persons. That is a useful legal fiction. I do believe that the rights of these artificial persons should be regulated and none of these rights should be construed as inalienable.

I agree that it's a bit of a mess, and the language "end corporation personhood" is not precise. A more precise version might be "corporations, as artificial persons, do not have the rights of natural persons under the Bill of Rights, but only the rights which municipal, state and federal legislators give them, and none of these rights should be construed to be inalienable." Unfortunately, I'm not sure that kind of language is appropriate for a pledge. If someone has a simpler of way of saying the same thing, by all means let's use it.

But unless we come up with better language, "end corporate personhood" is simple and can be easily explained to those who don't understand its significance.

Unfortunately, getting money out of politics and the corporate personhood issue are inextricably intertwined. Making things even more of a mess, the Supreme Court has added that money is free speech, which also must be addressed in the same amendment. The whole thing is a Gordian knot, and we must cut it with one stroke.

"end corpotate personhood" is not at all simple..the whole idea, as expressed in a constituitional amendment is very complex, I am learning. 

 Sounds so simple and obvious..of course corporations aren't the same as living breathing persons..but in the context of Blackstone (Common Law), the current legal status of Citizen's United, and the failure of our forfathers to clarify in the first place whether it intended all the rights enumerated in our original consitution ( which went well beyond common law) to include anything other than natural persons. It's all quite cloudy.

 

I spent several hours today trying to track down and compare the many, many , many different draft bills all directed at correcting what citizens united has allowed.  

So there isn't even one clear constitutional amendment  to get behind right at this moment ( I still like  McCarthy's Joint resolution and also very much like the move to amend text which says "non persons" are regulated by law not by rights goven under the constitution)

 I also like Donna Edwards amendment which doesn't address corporate personhood at all and already has 26 co-sponsors.

"

Section 1. The sovereign right of the people to govern being essential to a free democracy, Congress and the States may regulate the expenditure of funds for political speech by any corporation, limited liability company, or other corporate entity.

`Section 2. Nothing contained in this Article shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.'.

Cosponsors: Andre Carson, Yvette Clarke, John Conyers, Keith Ellison, Bob Filner, Alan Grayson, Raul Grijalva, John Hall, Martin Heinrich, Maurice Hinchey, Mazie Hirono, Jesse Jackson, Barbara Lee, Carolyn Maloney, Edward Markey, Jim McGovern, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Chellie Pingree, Nick Rahall, Tim Ryan, Louise McIntosh Slaughter, Betty Sutton, Peter Welch.

Introduced by Donna Edward 2/2/2010

I have been studying thiis since the CitizensUunited Decision and the more I see the less I feel "in command" of a solution that will accomplish the objective which is to shut corporate money out of our electoral and legislative process..

 

I am no consitutional expert but I am beginning to think we need both either the McCarthy resolution or the movetoamend version or at leastthe language from it that says all non natural persons are regulated by law, and the very specific language of Donna Edwards very simple straightforward  claim  that "we have the right to estbalish by law how elctions are run and whatthe conduct of our eleced officials should be.( Citizens united directly undermines and Ithink even voids campaign finance reform efforts).

It is very very complex.

 

I agree with you that the actual amendment will be very tricky to write so that it covers every eventuality without loopholes. I really like the Move To Amend language for the most part. My only issue with them is they don't explicitly forbid corporate money in politics. They simply say it can be regulated. If I gave the impression that the issue of corporate personhood is simple, then I apologize. It is quite complex.

My point was that the pledge itself needs to be kept simple. (On the Americans For Tax Reform site, they include a whole page devoted to explaining the pledge. I would propose that we do something similar.)

Because the issue is complex, I believe it would be impossible to boil down all the essential elements into a pledge that is both readable, understandable and truly represents the issue in it's full breadth.

What we need is a simple pledge that covers the essential elements (corporate personhood and getting money out of politics) and a FAQ page devoted to explaining the pledge and it's ramifications.

Mr. Blue, 

Here is the link to "move to ammend.org" who have a petition with 155,000 signatures that I signed and posted on my Facebook. 

 

 David Cobb is on their Board. an expert in constitutional law who has been on this isue of the courts growing affirmation of corporate personhood from long before Citizens United.

 I trust him.

  I think he is authentic and truly well versed in this.  So I trust whatever move to ammend is doing because of his presence and influence.

http://movetoamend.org/motion-to-amend

 

I think the "leadership" of Occupy should each out to Cobb and ask what we best can do to further this effort..and trust him on whatever he says.

Mr. Blue..thank you for your perseverance on this core issue and for your obviously authentic and genuine search for an answer from a place that doesn't pretend to already have the anwer.  That is the key ..that's what will help our efforts here and wherever we have influence to find the way out of this darkness.

 

With great respect and appreciation,

 

Lindsay

 

You're welcome, Lindsay.

We're all trying to figure this stuff out, and as you say, David Cobb has a long head start on most of us, both because of his training and because he's been at it longer than we have (although I still reserve the right to question what he says -- even Cobb doesn't have all the answers).

I'm sure I come off as didactic sometimes, but I too am not always certain of the way forward, and I am always looking to clarify my thinking and change my opinions, as I get new information.

Thank you for participating in these discussions and bringing your knowledge and good will to the table.

Mr. Blue

Perhaps all of what we hope to achieve can't be in one pledge.  On the Citizens United decisions the pledge should be to co-sponsor the specific JR(Joint Resolution)  28th Amendment text already on the floor(I believe that is the one introduced by McGovern.)   It only takes a 2/3 vote of both houses to pass a constitutional amendment. Polls show 76% of American support such an amendment.  Any rep or sentaor who refuses to co-sposor outs hinm/herself.

That could be the centerpiece of Occupy's push..it is the one issue that unites the overwhelming majority of americans who also have  already expressed overwhelming disapporival of congress. Forcing a pledge by every single sitting rep/senator would be very powerful.

 

This post contains some public opinions info that you might like to insert in your opening discussion.

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