Money is Not Speech and Constitutional Rights are for Human Beings
Following an unusually placid series of votes approving budget items, Canterbury, New Hampshire’s annual Town Meeting came to life during a debate over a resolution calling for a Constitutional Amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision.
Discussion began with a well delivered speech by Laurie Lockwood, who said that due to the 2010 ruling, “there can now be no effective restraint placed on campaign spending by corporations, Political Action Committees, unions, or groups of any kind. If you have a mailbox, a radio, or a TV, you are aware of the results.”
but not unprecedented, she said, and it is our duty as citizens to take action.
The resolution was pretty straightforward, calling on the town’s elected officials to support an amendment to the US Constitution establishing that “only human beings, not corporations, are endowed with constitutional rights; and money is not speech, and therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech.”
Without change, according to Lockwood, we will have more “nasty, expensive elections that discourage participation, and we end up with representatives who are indebted to wealthy and powerful interests.”
In a thinly veiled reference to the brothers Koch, Lockwood said “fossil fuel interests have already pledged to spend a billion dollars on the 2016 elections.”
When she finished, many town residents applauded and it looked for a moment like we might proceed to a vote without further remarks. But Howard Moffett, a retired attorney who serves as one of Canterbury’s State Representatives, decided to share his reservations. Although he had voted for similar resolutions at the State House, he said he was concerned that language calling for the end of corporate personhood went too far. He said he would have preferred the resolution was drafted differently, but that he would support it because “we just have too much money in our politics drowning out the voices of ordinary citizens.”
Rep. Moffett’s statement elicited a invitation for him to elaborate on his concerns and a request for information about how the resolution had been drafted. Rep. Moffett spoke again briefly, and I addressed the origin of the resolution and its relationship to others being considered all over the country, which together can create a groundswell of pressure on Congress to act even if they don’t share the exact same wording.
Another voter asked about corporate personhood, which brought Laurie Lockwood to the microphone again for a short history lecture.
Finally Judy Elliott took the floor. “We want to make it clear that corporations do not have the right to spend unlimited money on elections.” That was the last word.
Wayne Mann, the town’s Moderator, called for a vote, which in Canterbury is conducted by voters waving a green card for “yes” or a red card for “no.” There were a few “no” votes, but no doubt that the resolution had the overwhelming support of the citizens present.
The vote followed weeks of organizing by a small, informal committee of Canterbury residents who worked together to draft the resolution, collect petition signatures, organize an educational program at the library, and talk up the issue in town. Canterbury now joins dozens of other New Hampshire towns, and hundreds across the country, that are calling for the Constitution to be amended.
Disclosure: the photos of people voting were taken during earlier votes, not the vote on Article 9, the resolution on Citizens United.