Tonight, I will deliver this testimony to the House Judiciary Committee:
. . . corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their ‘personhood’ often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of “We the People” by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.
~Supreme Court Justice Stevens, January 2010
Everyone makes mistakes, even Supreme Court Justices. Sometimes five of them make the same mistake at once and produce a horrible decision that threatens to unravel the democratic fabric of our civil society. Such was the Court’s decision in Citizens United vs. FEC. Our President, Senator Whitehouse, the City of Providence among other RI municipalities, and this very legislative body have all recognized this and pushed for the reversal of the decision. H6051 and the “We The People” constitutional referendum it enables gives the Rhode Island people that same opportunity with a direct vote.
There are two ways a Supreme Court decision can be reversed. The simplest and most common is for the Court itself to review and overturn its decision when it takes up a related case. The other is to amend the US Constitution, either through Congressional action or an Article V convention called for by at least ⅔ of the States. In the history of our great country, there has never been an Article V convention. For all intents and purposes, we must hope that the corporate sponsored hyper-partisan politicians in Washington take action to amend the Constitution and put an end to the money in politics that put them there, or that the Court will take up a case and do what’s right.
Given the dangerous implications of unlimited corporate spending in elections, any action that can be taken to facilitate the reversal of Citizens United should be taken immediately. The “We The People” amendment to the Rhode Island Constitution, if approved, would do this in a few ways. If the amendment gets challenged and heard by the Supreme Court, it would give the Court the chance to overturn Citizens United. However, if the Court affirms its previous decisions and overrules a popular democratic vote, then a fire will be ignited under the Congressional amendment process and probably the Article V process as well, making those avenues more likely to move forward. Finally, the RI “We The People” amendment might not be challenged, and Rhode Island could serve as a model whereby other states could reclaim their right to regulate special interest spending in elections.
In addition to these critically important policy implications, H6051 will give Rhode Island voters a cathartic opportunity. For long years, we have watched our democracy slip away from us, powerless to do anything about the growing influence on money in politics. Faith in government is plumbing the depths. The people know what is right on this issue. They know that a corporation is not a person and that its spending in elections is not free speech. We, The People, deserve to be heard. This is our democracy.
For these good reasons, I urge you to pass H6051 and put the question to the people. Give us the chance to send a message to the Supreme Court and all our leaders in Washington, D.C. These are extraordinary times when corporate power threatens to overwhelm the power of the public, and these times demand extraordinary action. This bill is that action.
Thank you for your consideration.