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2010 was the first election in which we witnessed the true effect of the Supreme Court's Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision. On the night before the election, Congresswoman Donna Edwards said, "You can hear it on the radio ads and you can see it on the television, the independent spending that's going on there that's completely anonymous and, I think, it's been very destructive."

To that end, she introduced this week's episode, H. J. Res 78, an amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision.

90 Second Summaries: Season 2, Episode 24
H. J. Res. 78: Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Citizens United
Introduced 9/12/2011
Sponsor: Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD4). Key cosponsor: Rep. John Conyers (D-MI14)
Click here to download this summary (pdf)


Cosponsors: 15 (15 Democrats, 0 Republicans). Full list at http://thomas.loc.gov/...

Status: Referred to Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution. Virtually no chance of moving or even receiving a hearing.

Senate Companion: None. Max Baucus (D-MT) announced plans in January to introduce such an amendment, but never did so.

Purpose: In January 2010, the United States Supreme Court struck down the longstanding ban on direct political spending by corporations as unconstitutional. The now-infamous Citizens United v. FEC decision unleashed a torrent of corporate spending in the 2010 election cycle, heavily tilted towards Republicans and much of it anonymous, confirming the worst fears of the decision's detractors.

In response, Democrats have proposed various measures to counteract the antidemocratic effects of unlimited and undisclosed corporate spending. While leadership chose to advance a more modest response and demand transparency through the DISCLOSE Act, some favored a constitutional amendment to repeal the decision entirely. The latter approach was captured in Rep. Donna Edwards' proposal, reintroduced in the 112th Congress as H.J. Res. 78.

Summary: H. J. Res. 78, which would become the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution if enacted, overturns Citizens United in the following manner:

• Clarifies the authority of Congress to regulate and restrict the political activity of corporations of any sort, including but not limited to contributions in support of or in opposition to a candidate for public office;
• States that the measure does not affect freedom of the press, most notably for newspapers to endorse candidates;
• Does NOT challenge the concept of “corporate personhood” that allows corporates various rights and constitutional protections;
• Does NOT challenge Buckley v. Valeo, the 1976 decision that ruled campaign contributions to be a form of constitutionally protected free speech.

Note: As with any constitutional amendment, this proposal requires 2/3 support in both houses of Congress (290 in the House, 67 in the Senate), and ratification by 3/4 of the states (38) in order to be enacted. Seeing that Republicans disproportionately benefit from outside corporate spending and control far more than the 13 states necessary to block an amendment, enactment is virtually impossible barring a major shift in the political climate.

CBO Score: None provided. Would not affect federal or state spending in itself, although it may open the door for future regulations requiring enforcement.

Supporters: Democrats and allied organizations, good government organizations

• While some would like to go further and directly negate the concept of corporate personhood itself, supporters generally feel this measure is necessary to prevent corporate-aligned interests from buying elections outright and thus undermining the fabric of democracy.

Opponents: Republicans and allied organizations

• Opponents of this measure (and therefore supporters of the Citizens United decision) claim corporate spending on elections is rightfully protected by the First Amendment, as intended by the Founding Fathers. They see efforts to remove that protection as restricting freedom.

Further links
Full bill text: http://www.govtrack.us/...
Official CRS summary: http://www.govtrack.us/...
Rep. Edwards press release: http://donnaedwards.house.gov/...
The Hill article on the bill: http://thehill.com/...
Reason.com article mocking Citizens United opposition: http://reason.com/...

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (9+ / 0-)

    "Join the resistance and there will be no resistance!" - My Grandmother

    by Rusty5329 on Mon Oct 17, 2011 at 08:44:01 AM PDT

  •  Corporations have a responsibility to... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Tracker

    Corporations have a responsibility to their stock holders to explain where and why they are spending their money.  I think that any corporation who spends money on for political reason should have to disclose exactly what the company is going to get for that money spent, how it will affect the bottom line of the company and disclose any assurances they have received form the political recipients for the contributions from the stock owners collective money.  

    Once a contribution is clearly defined in terms of services promised, it would be hard to legally differintiate from a bribe.

    "Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not YET sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favour..."

    by Buckeye Nut Schell on Mon Oct 17, 2011 at 08:54:29 AM PDT

    •  It never happens that way (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      VClib

      Corporations (and contribution recipients) do not and cannot quantify things like that.  

    •  BNS - why would political expendatures (0+ / 0-)

      be held to a higher disclosure standard than other business expenses? Under current SEC and GAAP accounting rules expenses only need to be disclosed, and discussed in public documents, when they are material. Why should there be a different standard for political activity?

      "let's talk about that"

      by VClib on Mon Oct 17, 2011 at 09:39:39 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Must be my misunderstanding... (0+ / 0-)

        but wasn't one of the points made by Michael Moore in "Sicko" that it is the law that publicly held companies must do everything in their to earn profits for the stock holders; that is what they are entrusted to do.  To his point, paying out to the insured was a cost that they were legally obligated to try to reduce to increase profits.

        Wouldn't (or at least shouldn't) companies have to show how these contributions benefit the stock holder in order to justify the expense?  Aren't these expenses auditable and held to account much like the $16,000 toilet and the $5,000 gold plated trash bin was a few years ago?  At least couldn't the stock holders themselves demand an explanation of such an obscure expense (such as Murdoch's million dollar Newscorp donation to the Republican Governor's election fund)  What was his motivation; personal or did it benefit the corporation and exactly how did it benefit the corporation?  If I was a Democratic Governor and held stock in Newscorp, I think anyone would see that as a fair question.

        "Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not YET sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favour..."

        by Buckeye Nut Schell on Mon Oct 17, 2011 at 12:18:05 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  BNS - a short answer NO (0+ / 0-)

          News Corp has annual revenues of $33 billion, an expense of $1 million is not a material item and would not be reported. Corporations have an obligation to increase long term shareholder value. The board of directors receives substantially more detailed information than the public, but management is given wide latitude on how the corporate assets are allocated. The public sees the very big picture. I think that money spent on lobby and political activity should be held to the same as any other area of expenses, but there is no basis from an investor relations perspective to have them treated as a special case. Of course all expenses are audited by an outside CPA firm to make certain that if a contribution was noted in the books, it actually was made.

          On the $16,000 toilet and $5,000 hammer I think that's what the government was charged, not what a corporation paid.

          "let's talk about that"

          by VClib on Mon Oct 17, 2011 at 12:41:55 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  So a corporation only needs to form a (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gooserock

    Newspaper to become exempt.  

    Citizens United applied to Unions as well, does the proposed amendment also apply to unions in the same way as corporations?

    The most important way to protect the environment is not to have more than one child.

    by nextstep on Mon Oct 17, 2011 at 08:57:36 AM PDT

    •  Press Freedom is Another HUGE Debacle of Our (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      dark daze, prfb

      system. Press have been operating as quasi political parties, helping throw elections and trials, destroying public and private figures' reputations fraudulently and goading us into wars fraudulently for our entire history.

      Something a lot more complex is needed beyond the simplistic statement in the Bill of Rights and we've not really ever begun to discuss what a democratic superpower needs for communication and information, and what kind of governmental framework would get us that.

      What we have sure as hell doesn't, it creates global information warlords.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Mon Oct 17, 2011 at 09:06:07 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It's a Step. But Notice the Oil & Gas Co's Adver- (0+ / 0-)

    tising how much great oil and gas we have waiting to be drilled. Obviously this is a political campaign against environmental restrictions, but since it's about their immediate business, this amendment probably wouldn't be able to regulate it.

    And that would apply to any business advertising its work that's regulated.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Mon Oct 17, 2011 at 09:02:54 AM PDT

    •  Corporations should be allowed to speak out on (0+ / 0-)

      I believe that corporations should be allowed to speak out on behalf of their interests in the spirit of free speech.  I am against corporations bribing (i.e. donating) to politicians.

      As long as the the "speaker" is willing to identify themselves, I believe they should be allowed to say anything they want to: Exxon should be allowed to advocate for more drilling and greater use of petroleum products, just as the the fireman should be able to advocate for greater wages and benefits.

      BUT, our law-makers should be protected from the inherently corrupting activity of soliciting and receiving private donations.  

      "The fool doth think he is wise: the wise man knows himself to be a fool" - W. Shakespeare

      by Hugh Jim Bissell on Mon Oct 17, 2011 at 09:51:03 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  the text (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    coffeetalk, VClib
    ‘Section 1. Nothing in this Constitution shall prohibit Congress and the States from imposing content-neutral regulations and restrictions on the expenditure of funds for political activity by any corporation, limited liability company, or other corporate entity, including but not limited to contributions in support of, or in opposition to, a candidate for public office.

    ‘Section 2. Nothing contained in this Article shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.’.

    What constitutes "political activity"?  Would it restrict Google's ability to speak out on behalf of pro-net neutrality candidates?
  •  Senator Exxon objects to these efforts (0+ / 0-)

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