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Grassroots Movement to Eliminate Corporate Personhood hits Boulder

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PART FOUR: Grassroots Movement to Eliminate Corporate Personhood hits Boulder, CO.  — 10:03

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What can be done about Corporate Personhood?  Well, it would take a constitutional Amendment to change federal law—and that has to be ratified by three quarters of the states.  It’s a tough hill to climb…but there’s a growing movement in local communities across the country.  In April, voters in Madison Wisconsin approved a city referendum calling for amending the U.S. Constitution to establish that “only human beings, not corporations, are entitled to constitutional rights”. This November, voters in Boulder Colorado will be asked to vote on the same question.  From Boulder, Maeve Conran has the story.

Ambient sound of a party… background chatter

Maeve Conran: On a late September evening, supporters of the 2H ballot measure gather at a Boulder restaurant to officially launch their campaign.

Spicer: “My name is Laura Spicer , and I’m the vice chair of the Boulder County Democratic Party and one of the campaign managers of  2 H. We can’t match corporate billionaire dominance when it comes to elections and governments.    It’s a government by for and of the people not by for and of corporations.” Conran:   This November, voters in Boulder will be asked to approve a measure that states that only human beings, not corporations, are entitled to constitutional rights, and that money is not speech, and therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech.  Judy Lubow, one of the original organizers of the 2 H campaign, said she became alarmed at the state of the democracy following the Citizen’s United ruling – and that’s what prompted her to act locally. Lubow: “In my opinion, Congress is bought and the presidency is almost fatally compromised.  We can’t seem to get real change no matter who is elected.  And that being so, one of the few places where we can impact anything is locally.  Because in comparison there is a lot of us to local government, as opposed to so few of us in regard to the national government. So we can make an impact in local government and that is why Move to Amend is choosing to do local actions.”Conran: That group Lubow referred to, Move to Amend, is pushing similar measures across the country including one that passed in  Madison, Wisconsin this past April. These local measures like this are part of a national movement whose ultimate goal is to amend the U.S. constitution to state that corporations are not entitled to the same rights as people. Elena Nunez with Colorado Common Cause says that one of the local measures won’t actually change any laws, they’ll send a message to Congress that the people are demanding a change.Nunez: “Well, I think it’s important to realize that the Constitutional Amendment Strategy, it’s a long term movement. And the only way its going to happen is by having citizens in local communities, like Boulder, take a stand and say that it’s important. We’re not going to see the change trickle down from Washington DC. Anyone who’s watched any of the recent debates, whether it’s healthcare or the environment or climate change, knows that change isn’t going to happen in Washington DC.” Conran: In August, the Boulder City Council voted 6-3 to put the issue on November’s ballot. Council member Casey Becker and the other two dissenters cited unintended consequences of what they cited as “language that was too broad.” Becker: “Ninety-nine percent of corporations are less than 5 people. And corporations include non-profits and associations and labor unions and a lot of folks that do really good work.”

Conran:  The initiative supporters reject this criticism saying they are simply calling for an amendment and not articulating what the language of that amendment would be. Macon Cowles was the first Boulder council member to say yes to the ballot initiative.

Cowles:  “The thing that gives me hope with a measure like this is that shouting in the dark at first, but our voice will be joined with that of Madison and that of other people around the country.  It is a shout to our leaders at the state level and the federal level that we have to change the way in which we treat corporations in this country. They have so invaded the public space, they’ve so corrupted the political process, the body politic at the state and federal level that really our politics are in a shamble. I think of Wallace Stevens and what he said and that is ‘after the final no, there comes a yes, and on that yes the future of the world depends,’ that’s where we are now.” Applause… fades out…Mark Lowenstein: I don’t think it’s well thought out and I don’t think it’s a well considered amendment and I don’t think that reflects well on the city council.Conran:  Mark Lowenstein, is a Professor of Law at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Lowenstein: I don’t think it reflects well on the city of Boulder and I don’t think it reflects well on the state of Colorado in terms of attracting businesses to make an investment if there’s hostility to corporations and I think this is what it’s all about – Hostility to corporations.

Conran: There’s one corporation in particular that Lowenstein feels is being singled out locally… Xcel energy.  Two other initiatives also on this year’s ballot will ask Boulder voters if they want to form a municipal utility company and break away from the energy giant.

Lowenstein: I think there’s a connection between this and the municipalization of Xcel energy… I think there too there is a great distrust of Xcel energy, in part because it is a corporation.  So I think if you want to have a vibrant economy the last thing you want to do is discourage people from investing in your economy, in a small part, that’s what this does as well.

Conran: The connection between the ballot issues is not lost on the 2 H supporters.  Judy Lubow says the example of Xcel energy make clear why corporate personhood is wrong.

Lubow: But we’re also seeing now in the city of Boulder itself, there’s this wonderful new issue that’s called municipalization, where the city is trying to and is asking citizens for the right to be able to create and sell its own electricity and to take that right away from the corporations, but to do it themselves.  And there’s a huge amount of money being spent against that campaign, much more than local citizens could raise.

Conran: In fact, Xcel has spent half a million dollars campaigning against municipalization, including a 250,000 donation to a citizen fronted campaign. This is ten times the amount that four groups campaigning against municipalization have spent. But law Professor Mark Lowenstein says critics of the Citizen’s United ruling, largely misunderstand the ruling by focusing on corporate spending in elections.  Rather he says it’s really about speech.  Lowenstein:   Interestingly, Citizens United itself involved a non-profit corporation that wanted to pay for the running of a film that they thought would influence voters.  So I suppose what people are saying who oppose citizens united is “we don’t want that information to get into the hands of voters, we don’t want people to see that film”.  Isn’t that a frightening thought? Conran:   But the Citizen’s United ruling has galvanized communities around the country.  And in Boulder, Move to Amend has chapters in at least 17 states and nearly 136,000 people have signed their online petition calling for a constitutional amendment eliminating corporate personhood.

Conran: Back in Boulder at the 2H launch party, people are confident of a win in November. The measure has been endorsed by 18 local organizations including local chapters of the Sierra Club and the AFL-CIO. Six council members have also officially endorsed the campaign, including Matt Applebaum who says he was initially skeptical.

Applebaum: We get asked to put a lot of things on the ballot and you have to do it very carefully, especially when it doesn’t seem to be a local issue and I had all the concerns other people did too about well… this isn’t going to change anything after all, you can’t expect to have a constitutional change at least not in my life time.  But the more I thought about it, what became obvious to me and what is obviously clear to all of you in this room, is that it’s really hard to think of a more important issue… this is kind of fundamental to democracy at all levels, so it is a local issue… and it’s a state issue and it’s a national issue…and when I realized that, it became obvious that the right thing to do was to put it on the ballot.  Conran: Colorado Common Cause’s Nunez, says she’s confident of a win this November because Colorado voters have already shown support forgetting money out of politics.

Nunez: ..in Colorado we have a strong history of fighting for strong campaign finance laws. Boulder has a strong public financing law. Statewide, we passed Amendment 27, which is the Campaign Finance Law, with 66% of the vote. So Colorado voters, both locally in Boulder and state-wide, have said time and again that they want to reduce the influence of money in politics. And what the Supreme Court has said is that those decisions that these communities have made no longer carry adequate weight, and they’ve overturned parts of the law, so now you can see corporations spending unlimited amounts on independent ads in support or opposition to a candidate. So even though Colorado voters have said we don’t want corporations and labor unions to make direct contributions or independent expenditures; the Supreme Court overruled their individual voice.
Conran:  Supporters of 2 H say they want the measure to pass by a huge margin, to send a strong message to other communities across the country that local action can make a difference nationally.

CHANTING: Yes on 2H…Ready people?…Yes on 2 H!

Conran: Along with Boulder, Missoula Montana will have an anti corporate personhood measure on this year’s ballot and citizens in Eugene, Oregon and Marina, California are in the early stages of a similar campaign. This comes on top of the 30 municipalities that have already passed resolutions and ordinances abolishing corporate personhood since the Citizens United decision.

For Making Contact, I’m Maeve Conran, in Boulder, Colorado.

Author: IreneFlorez

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3 Comments

  1. Move To Amend is doing good work, and many of the grassroots initiatives are positive. But these are complex issues. Corporate personhood has existed for two millennium — it was invented by the ancient Romans. It may give people pause to learn that corporate lawyers are also hard at work trying to scrap corporate personhood. They have come up with something they like better. It is a frightening alternative that, if we scrap corporate personhood, will likely be its replacement. I have written an article: “Abolishing Corporate Personhood: Be Careful What You Ask For” ( http://proxyexchange.org/2011/10/1242/ ). I highly recommend people read it.

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    • Thx for commenting Glyn. Yes interesting history of Roman Cities, collegia and the early Catholic Church. How should “artificial persons” be taxed? –Lisa

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  2. Corporate taxation is a very different matter. I have some first hand experience working in a corporate tax department, which I related recently in a comment on another person’s blog. It is entertaining (and a bit of an eye-opener) so I will share the link. Scroll to the bottom to see my comment:

    http://mrobinson.proxyexchange.org/2011/11/03/30-us-companies-paid-no-income-tax-from-2008-2010/

    From an entirely practical standpoint, I would say the resources this country squanders on corporate taxation, mostly in terms of the hundreds of thousands or accountants and lawyers who devote their lives to enforcing or fighting it, it isn’t worth the revenue it generates. My inclination would be to scrap corporate taxation and simply offset the lost revenu with higher taxes on the wealthy … or even better, a financial transactions tax, which would bring frenetic speculative trading on Wall Street to a screeching stop.

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