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Advocacy Groups Seek to Curb Corporations

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Jim McGovern is one of several lawmakers who have proposed constitutional amendments overturning “corporate personhood.”

As Occupy Wall Street activists vacate public parks around the country, several new advocacy groups have sprung up to pursue OWS-inspired constitutional amendments to limit the influence of money and corporate lobbying in politics.

The idea of amending the Constitution to overturn “corporate personhood” has also taken hold on Capitol Hill, spawning a half-dozen resolutions in the House and Senate. These include three separate amendments introduced this month by Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Betty Sutton (D-Ohio).

“I think the Occupy energy that’s sweeping across America is a huge wave, and anybody who doesn’t get a surfboard on top of it is losing a tremendous opportunity,” said Nick Penniman, president of United Republic, a new nonprofit that’s set out to fight what organizers call “the corrupting influence of well-financed special interests.”

The group moved up its launch date, Penniman said, in part to tap the energy behind the Occupy movement, which lacks a specific agenda but which has spotlighted anti-corporate slogans in cities around the country. Co-founded by Josh Silver, former CEO of the media and technology reform group Free Press, United Republic already has a staff of about a dozen people and plans a $10 million budget for 2012.

Another pro-reform activist who rushed to open his doors this fall is Cenk Uygur, a left-leaning Internet talk-radio host who has launched a group called Wolf PAC to push for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics. Uygur, who hosts the show “The Young Turks” and formerly hosted a program on MSNBC, announced the launch in a spirited call-and-response rally with Occupy Wall Street protesters in lower Manhattan last month.

“Corporations are not people,” Uygur shouted to a gathering of Occupy activists, who chanted back, “Corporations are not people.”

Uygur has rounded up 42,000 volunteers all over the country and will soon hire an executive director for his group, he said. Wolf PAC will operate as an unrestricted super political action committee and will focus first on amending the Constitution through the states, and not through Congress. (Any constitutional amendment must be approved by a two-thirds majority of the House and the Senate and ratified by three-fourths of the states.)

“We’re not kidding around,” Uygur said in an interview. “It’s going to be very aggressive. We will pressure the state legislators through calls, possibly occupying state houses.”

United Republic and Wolf PAC join an already existing cluster of pro-reform groups formed in the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling early last year. That ruling freed both corporations and unions to spend unrestricted organizational money on campaigns.

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