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Citizens United v. We the People

Two years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate spending in our elections, the fast-growing movement to fight back with a 28th Amendment to the Constitution is taking shape. With a “Super PAC” frenzy inundating the 2012 presidential campaign, feeding the public’s widespread revulsion at what the Court has wrought, the time to act is upon us. Public Citizen’s Robert Weissman in the Washington Post:

Activists join Maryland legislators and U.S. Representatives, as well as Public Citizen's Mark Hays and other allies, to call for a constitutional amendment at the State House in Annapolis.

“We’re already at a point where the public overwhelmingly opposes the decision ,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, a watchdog group helping to spearhead the efforts. “The goal is to build a grass-roots movement that will eventually be able to shape the debate.”

Public Citizen’s Democracy is For People campaign, as a founding member of the United for the People coalition, is proud to be in the thick of this amazing “movement moment.”

Building on more than 50 cities and towns that have passed resolutions demanding a constitutional amendment that overturns Citizens United and stems the influence of money over elected officials, Public Citizen and our allies have been organizing in four different states vying to have their legislatures follow suit (and in the process declare that they’re ready to ratify an amendment). Rallies supporting those resolutions were held in Massachusetts and Maryland over the last 2 days (with Congressmen Chris Van Hollen and John Sarbanes attending in Maryland). Vermont and California will follow suit tomorrow and Saturday.

And to mark Saturday’s anniversary itself, activists around the nation will “Occupy the Corporations,” and expose the corporate imposters posing as ‘people’ with the constitutional right to buy unprecedented influence over elected officials and public policy. We’ll be focusing on some of the mega-corporations most empowered by Citizens United and most responsible for greedy, disastrously short-sighted policies, to the detriment of the rest of us.

Indeed, new polling shows that small-business owners view the impact of Citizens United (and of the dominant role of money in our politics) as bad for business by a 7 to 1 margin! And Public Citizen is part of a broad coalition of top institutional investors, CEOs, public officials, legal experts and good government groups that is petitioning the Securities & Exchange Commission to mandate transparency in political spending by publicly-traded corporations. (Listen to the coalition’s conference call for more on how the current “Wild West” atmosphere for campaign finance negatively impacts business, and how the kind of disclosure that the Supreme Court incorrectly presumed to exist can at least help mitigate the damage done by Citizens United in the short term.)

Fittingly enough, the anniversary of Citizens United falls on the exact same day as South Carolina’s presidential primary. The ruling that paved the way for the ongoing deluge of money and negative ads that state– like Iowa and New Hampshire before it– is seeing right now has not been lost on disgusted citizen activists around the country, nor on newspaper editorial boards or fellow fans of Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert.

Yet pure anger at the drowning out of grassroots democracy isn’t all that’s driving the 300-plus grassroots actions taking place this week, nor the over 60 national, state and local organizations mobilizing for them.  As Democracy is for People organizer Aquene Freechild relayed at the press conference introducing Vermont’s proposed resolution, the amazing people we’ve met through organizing are often driven by a simple principle: “We do not want a nation organized around greed. We want a nation [and a politics] organized around democratic principles, and strength of character.”

And as Maryland State Senator and constitutional law professor Jamie Raskin, the author of that state’s legislative resolution calling for an amendment, told The Nation‘s editorial board, “American citizens have repeatedly amended the Constitution to defend democracy when the Supreme Court acts in collusion with democracy’s enemies, whether they are slavemasters, states imposing poll taxes on voters or the opponents of woman suffrage.”

The road to a constitutional amendment won’t be easy, and established conventional wisdom says that our efforts have the deck stacked against them. But we’re in this one for the long haul, because as Americans throughout the nation are declaring this week, people-powered democracy is a cause well worth fighting for.

Sean Siperstein is a Legal Fellow with Public Citizen’s Democracy is For People campaign.