Groups spawned by the ruling include Move to Amend, a coalition of liberal organizations pushing to amend the Constitution to establish that political spending does not deserve the same protections as free speech; We the People, launched by a trio of progressives that includes Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of the Nation; and Free Speech for People, which is pushing a constitutional amendment to establish that “free speech and other Constitutional rights are for people, not corporations.”
“For the first time now, Congress has the opportunity to debate this basic question of whether corporations should be treated as people with constitutional rights,” said John Bonifaz, who co- founded Free Speech for People the day after the Citizens United ruling with Boston lawyer Jeff Clements. Clements has just authored a forthcoming book titled “Corporations Are Not People: Why They Have More Rights Than You Do and What You Can Do About It.”
Given the large majorities needed to amend the Constitution at both the federal and the state level, lawmakers and activists pushing for constitutional changes face an uphill battle. They are also up against free-speech advocates who argue that amendments targeting corporations violate constitutional First Amendment rights.
“Silencing one group may be politically beneficial in the short-term for certain groups,” wrote Joe Trotter, media manager of the pro-free-speech Center for Competitive Politics, in a recent FrumForum blog post on recent anti-corporate rhetoric. “However, it ultimately leaves everyone worse off because it creates a knowledge vacuum. In our society, public and private sectors are hopelessly intertwined. It does everyone a disservice to hold only one group responsible.”
Some of the new groups organizing in the name of reform, moreover, are using the same tactics as the corporate-backed political groups they criticize. Uygur’s Wolf PAC will be free to raise and spend unrestricted money, something that was not permitted through PACs before Citizens United. As a nonprofit, United Republic faces no obligation to disclose its funding sources — not unlike the new corporate-backed political nonprofits that reform advocates deplore.
At the same time, the proliferation of activists taking aim at big corporate money offers Occupy activists some tangible goals beyond simply sleeping in parks. One of United Republic’s objectives, Penniman said, is to help firm up specific short-term and long-term goals for the nascent anti-corporate-reform movement, which has yet to articulate a uniform approach to amending the Constitution.
“One of our hopes is that we’ll be able to coalesce the reform community around a common strategy for both amending the Constitution in the long haul, [and] also figuring out what the short-term victories are between now and a Constitutional amendment,” Penniman said.
His group’s goals include a “main street communications strategy” to “de-wonkify” the money and politics issue and help average Americans grasp how campaign spending affects their daily lives. The group will reach out to both political parties and is recruiting board members who are Democrats, Republicans and independents, he said.
Uygur, too, said anti-corporate sentiment transcends political party: “Everybody gets it. The tea party and Occupy Wall Street have the same core issue, which is: I don’t think these guys [in Washington, D.C.] are on the level. Whether it’s Democrats or Republicans, these guys don’t represent us.”