Previously here, amendment author Paul Westlake replied to an article on Campaign for America’s Future’s website by Greg Colvin who asked twelve important questions about proposed amendments to the Constitution. Rick Staggenborg is the author of another amendment proposal, and he also accepted Colvin’s challenge to respond to those questions.
Staggenborg’s proposed amendment is here:
SECTION 1. The rights, responsibilities, and privileges granted to “person” or “persons” as enumerated in this Constitution, its amendments, and extended through case law are exclusively reserved for human beings.
SECTION 2. All non-living entities established by law in the United States shall be subordinate to any and all laws enacted by the people and their elected governments. Corporations shall be defined as “persons” only for the purposes of contracting, suing, being sued, transacting business and continuity of operations as people come and go, as defined under state and federal law. Corporate charters do not limit the liability of officers of corporations or board members from criminal prosecution for acts authorized by them on behalf of the corporation.
SECTION 3. No non-living entity may donate to political campaigns directly or indirectly. All donations must come from the personal assets of individuals or via public funds expressly authorized by law to be used for that purpose. Congress and the states are empowered to limit or abolish individual donations.
SECTION 4. No person shall be employed by any member of Congress who has been employed within the previous 10 years by an industry subject to regulation by any committee on which that member of Congress is or has been a member, nor shall any member of Congress nor any individual in their employ be legally able to receive remuneration for services rendered to any corporation in any industry subject to regulation by such committees for a period of 10 years.
SECTION 5. Nothing contained herein shall be construed to abridge individual rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion or other inalienable rights of the People.
SECTION 6. Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
[Colvin’s questions are indented in block quotes, and multiple choice questions are answered in bold.]
1. What is the main purpose? Is it to drive the big money, from all sources, out of elections? Or is it to abolish corporate personhood?
Getting special interest money out of politics is of first priority. Move to Amend has thoroughly confused the issue by making corporate personhood the central issue. Most people who think they understand the issues believe that corporations were granted unlimited ability to buy elections based on “free speech rights.” That is not the case, and simply adding that money is not speech does not force Congress to end big money in elections, even if the amendment says they have to. Without an explicit ban we are wasting our time, since we already know that Congress will not have any incentive to ban special interest contributions when the majority of members depend on it for political survival.
2. If none of the rights extended to corporations are still protected by the Constitution, what would the consequences be — outside of the realm of elections?
It would not necessarily affect money in elections, since that was not the basis of Citizens United or Buckley. It would make clear that corporations have no protections under the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments (at least). It would not affect legitimate functions of business. Clements made an excellent argument on the matter (attached).
3. What would happen the day after the amendment was adopted? Would corporate and business spending in elections stop immediately or would legislation and litigation be required?
If properly written, the ban would be effective immediately. None of the amendments proposed is properly written, including the Move to Amend version.
4. What kinds of legal entities does the amendment apply to?
a. business corporations
b. nonprofit corporations
c. labor unions
d. other forms of organization (associations, trusts, LLCs, partnerships)
e. all of the above
As far as campaign finance, all associations of individuals. The amendment would merely have to specify that campaign contributions must come from individuals.
5. How should the campaign spending of individuals (including candidates) be regulated?
a. no limits on personal spending
b. authorize Congress and the states to set limits
c. set dollar limits in the Constitution
d. prohibit completely
My personal preference would be a dollar limit in the amendment, but I have been persuaded that is not viable.
6. Should all campaign contributions and expenditures be publicly disclosed? Or should Congress and the states allow small donations to be anonymous? In view of all that secret money that flows through nonprofit groups for political “issue ads,” how do we force them to disclose their sources?
The source of all donations above a threshold need to be disclosed. As far as political “nonprofits,” a properly written amendment will hold them to the same standards of avoiding electioneering as 501.c3s. The amendment has to include both direct and indirect expenditures.
7. Should public financing of campaigns be required, permitted, or prohibited?
Forcing the public to accept public financing would cost significant support. Besides, states are supposed to determine the election laws.
8. Does the amendment cover both candidate elections and public votes on ballot measures?
No. Issue advocacy groups must retain the right to take positions on ballot measures. States and localities should regulate them to the extent necessary.
9. Are all levels of government covered: federal, state, city, town, and county?
As far as banning special interest money in elections, yes.
10. Is any special wording needed to protect freedom of the press?
I believe that specifying that money is not speech and that nothing in the amendment shall be construed as abridging freedom of speech or of the press is adequate, if not ideal. I hardly think the Supreme Court would interpret it otherwise, however.
11. Should other subjects be covered in the amendment, such as making election day a holiday, shortening the campaign season, simplifying voter registration, requiring paper ballots, addressing voter disenfranchisement?
No. Even issues that seem non-controversial can be used as a pretext for corporate interests to attack the amendment.
12. Should there be two or more amendments to carry different aspects of these issues, or one unified proposal?
Not all (if any) of the proposals need to be in the form of an amendment aside from abolishing corporate personhood, declaring that money is not speech and explicitly banning all special interest money from campaigns. The more you add the easier it is to generate opposition to the whole thing based on individual points. Ultimately we will need a series of amendments to establish true representative democracy. A constitutional convention will not happen now, but I believe it must happen in the future.
Colvin adds at the end of his piece, “But what I really think we need is for all the proponents to get their ideas out on the table, have a big summit conference, test each approach using criteria such as these twelve, and forge a unified amendment.” Hopefully, these posts addressing his questions will contribute to such an effort.