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Vermont Lawmakers and Activists Challenge Corporate Personhood

Jan. 18, 2012  

Vermont Lawmakers and Activists Challenge Corporate Personhood

On Anniversary of Citizens United Decision, Vermont Pushes for a Constitutional Amendment to Overturn It

MONTPELIER, Vt. – In advance of the second anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission,Vermont lawmakers joined activists today at the state Capitol to rally support for a state resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the ruling and restore fair elections and constitutional rights to the people.The Citizens United decision allowed corporations to spend unlimited sums from their treasuries to influence elections and opened the floodgates to corporate cash.

Introduced on Jan. 21, 2011 – the first anniversary of theCitizens United decision – by state Sen. Virginia “Ginny” Lyons, the resolution calls on the Vermont delegation to support an amendment clarifying that corporations are not people under the U.S. Constitution.

“Few issues are as important to our democracy as overturning the Citizens United ruling and protecting constitutional rights of real people,” Lyons said.

Added Vermont Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, “Unfortunately, while deliberating corporate personhood, five of our Supreme Court justices failed to take into consideration that entities such as Citizens United are without souls.”

“The future of our nation depends on stating with absolute clarity that corporations are not people and that money does not equal speech,” said Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.

In the wake of the Citizens United decision, campaign spending by outside groups has skyrocketed. In the 2010 election cycle, the first since the Supreme Court decision, outside groups spent nearly $300 million. Cities across the nation have voted to rid elections of corporate cash.

“Spending by outside groups rose 427 percent afterCitizens United in the 2010 election cycle,” said Paul Burns, executive director of VPIRG. “This year, one group alone – Crossroads GPS and its Super PAC – is spending $240 million. This is just one group out of nearly 300 set up since the ruling. The impact of the Citizens United decision in our elections is explosive and destructive for our democracy.”

 “A powerful and inspiring movement to reclaim our democracy is rising, and Vermont is leading the way,” said Aquene Freechild, senior organizer with Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign. “Our effort with partners to pass resolutions in more than 50 Vermont towns sets an example for the kind of organizing we hope to see around the country.”

“Vermont companies, from mom-and-pop stores to large corporations, realize that Citizens United is a threat to our democracy,” said Andrea Cohen, executive director of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. “Our 1,200 business leaders are ready to stand up against this serious threat to good government.”

At today’s event, activists wielded signs that said “Corporations are not people” and “I am a person” – the latter alluding to the historic civil rights posters carrying the message “I am a man.” The press conference and a rally – to be held at the Vermont State House at 3 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 20 –  are part of a nationwide week of action calling for the Citizens United decision to be overturned. From Vermont to California, events are planned to highlight the need for the federal government to enact meaningful campaign finance reform.

“So many people are excited about this resolution, not only because the issue is compelling, but because Vermont could be the second state in the nation to take this step,” said Robin Lloyd, national board member with Move to Amend affiliate Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

“Our democracy was designed for the voices of individual people. We must organize, strategize and act together to end corporate personhood and restore our democracy,” said Gabriela Ochoa Brenneman, program director with the Peace and Justice Center in Burlington.

To learn more, visit: www.DemocracyIsForPeople.org and www.United4thePeople.org.