United States Representative Jim McGovern and Massachusetts state Attorney General Martha Coakley visited the Suffolk Law School for an hour on Jan. 24 to discuss the beginning of efforts to overturn the Citizens United case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States three years ago.
Hosted by the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service, Congressman McGovern held a press conference to spread publicity and awareness of his recently created constitutional amendments to reverse the Supreme Court of the United States’ ruling on the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case in 2010.
Also in attendance were several Massachusetts elected officials and other dignitaries. They included State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton), State Representative Marty Walz (D-Boston), State Representative Cory Atkins (D-Concord), Harvard University Law Professor John Coates, Free Speech for People co-founders John Bonifaz and Jeff Clements, and American Sustainable Business Council CEO David Levine.
In the Supreme Court case, Citizens United refers to a conservative non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. They claimed that since Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11, a controversial documentary that includes several scenes criticizing President George W. Bush and his administration, was basically money being spent against one presidential candidate over another. The court case ended with a 5-4 vote in favor of Citizens United.
McGovern, who spoke first, noted “issues that should be debated in Congress are avoided” because so much corporate money is given to congressmen to prevent any discussion or possible vote on a matter they wish to not be brought up.
“The issue is not just money in campaigns but corporations too,” McGovern, who currently represents Massachusetts’ second Congressional district, added. He said that corporations cannot physically breathe, go to war, or have kids, a comparison to actual humans. This point has been brought up time and time again after political candidates running last year, including Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts Governor and the 2012 Republican nominee for president, said that corporations are people.
On Jan. 22, McGovern’s Congressional office published a press release. The statement said that the two measures that the Congressman introduced last week would take steps to “overturn…Citizens United case, which unleashed a flood of corporate and special interest money into the American political system.” The two pieces of legislation that McGovern brought up in Congress are House Joint Resolutions 20 and 21.
The first one, HJ Resolution 20, “advances the fundamental principle of political equality for all by empowering Congress and the States to regulate political spending.” It will give Congress authority to pass legislation on reforming campaign finance without any interruption from potential challenges from the Constitution.
HJ Resolution 21 might be considered a little more controversial for several reasons. This resolution would actually overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case. McGovern’s press release dubs it the “People’s Rights Amendment,” and says it would address “corporate rights as they pertain to campaign finance,” but would also clarify that corporations are not people that have Constitutional rights. The latter was a key inclusion in speeches last year from then-Senate candidate and Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren, among many other Democratic politicians. However, although it may come as a surprise to many, the movement to overturn Citizens United is not solely a Democratic effort but, rather, an entirely bipartisan one.
Clements, one of the co-founders for Free Speech for People, noted at the press conference that Montana, which is often considered a swing state in elections, recently had a statewide vote on the issue. In the end, 75 percent of voters showed their support for an amendment that would thoroughly explain the phrase and clarify that ‘corporations are not people and money is not speech.’
In respect to potential opposition in Washington, D.C., McGovern said that the “major goal is to get a debate going in Congress and across the country on the issue of corporate personhood and whether or not corporations should be considered as people…and the huge amount of money going into political campaigns.” McGovern hopes that this push will help legislators talk more about the issues that matter instead of spending so much time raising money for their re-election campaigns.
To spread the word about his efforts to overturn Citizens United, McGovern had a “People’s Rights” tour where he visited Boston at Suffolk Law School, then went to Clark University in Worcester on Thursday, and finally, the Forbes Library in Northampton on Friday.