November 22, 2011

A Cornucopia of Constitutional Amendments

No sooner did I write about Jim McGovern's End Corporate Personhood Amendment, then another Congressperson introduced the OCCUPIED Amendment. Florida Representative Ted Deutch brings us the OCCUPIED Amendment in direct response to the Occupy Movement's grievances.

Here is a bit of history with respect to the Congressional response to the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizen's United case. On February 2, 2010, just days after the ruling, Maryland Representative Donna Edwards put forward a simple constitutional amendment to regulate the expenditure of funds that the Citizen's United case had just legalized. Michigan Representative John Conyers was a co-sponsor.

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.
The simplicity of this amendment is appealing. Although it makes clear that corporations do not have the same free speech rights as individuals, it leaves untouched the offensive notion that corporations are people and thus might have other rights that people have. This bill was reintroduced in October of 2011.

On April 5, voters in Madison, Wisconsin and Dane County, Wisconsin passed a symbolic, non-binding measure calling for an amendment to the U.S. Consitution to make clear that corporations do not have constitutional rights and that political contributions may be regulated. On November 1, Boulder, Colorado passed an identical measure. Missoula, Montana voted identically one week later. These symbolic measures didn't just pass by a narrow margin. They passed 3 to 1. Evidently the primary reason it wasn't more of a landslide was due to concerns about adverse impacts on non-profits and unions.

During the first half of November, Ohio Representative Betty Sutton and New Mexico Senator Tom Udall introduced companion bills sponsoring another campaign finance amendment. These bills look almost the same as the one put forward by Representative Edwards. They all aim to give Congress and the States clear authority to regulate the campaign finance system. This bill does have a lot more cosponsors.

On November 16, Massachuesetts Representative Jim McGovern introduced an amendment to remove constitutional rights from corporations, LLCs, and other corporate entities. It does not speak directly to campaign spending, but it limits spending indirectly, since corporations would no longer have the right to free speech, which the recent Supreme Court rulings defined as including unlimited campaign contributions.

On November 18, Florida Representative Ted Deutch introduced the OCCUPIED amendment that both ends corporate personhood and prohibits corporate campaign contributions. There is also more language to avoid unintended consequences. Representative Deutch explains his amendment in common terms on his website and I embellish a bit.

Section 1. (Corporations are not people) This section expressly declares that the rights protected by the Constitution are those of natural persons and not of for-profit institutions. [I believe this is worded so as to protect some of the rights of public interest non-profits]
Section 2. (Corporations can be regulated by people) This section makes clear that as corporations are established by law, they are therefore able to be regulated by laws enacted by the people.
Section 3. (Corporate prohibition in electioneering) This would immeiately prohibit such corporations from using money or other resources to influence voting on candidates or ballot measures anywhere in the U.S. and at all levels - federal, state, and local.
Section 4. (Allowing for regulation of all electioneering, including individual and of other entities) This section gives Congress and the States power to regulate ALL election contributions and expenditures, including those rich enough to pay for their own campaigns. This is power Congress already has, but is under siege.
This amendment is far more detailed and nuanced than the previous ones. To my non-lawyerly eyes, it looks to be the best of the bunch. The full name is Outlawing Corporate Cash Undermining the Public Interest in our Elections and Democracy, whose acronym is OCCUPIED. As it stands, the OCCUPIED amendment has a long and treacherous road to travel. In order for a constitutional amendment to become law, it must pass with a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate and then be ratified by three-quarters of the states. The road is treacherous, because the corporate Super Pacs are already super-financed; they are probably already mapping out their attack strategies.


  1. Did the OCCUPIED amendment have the part that says you can't construe it to take away any natural person's constitutional rights?

  2. The amendment explicitly states "The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons and do not extend to for-profit corporations, ..."

    Here's a link to the actual amendment -->