January 17, 2012 – Mercersburg, PA: With the two year anniversary of the Citizens United decision upon us, today the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) released a statement examining the activism that’s emerged in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision, and declaring the need to build a broader movement. (To read the statement, go to: http://celdf.live2.radicaldesigns.org/downloads/CELDF%20CITIZENS%20UNITED%20STATEMENT%20JANUARY%2017%202012.pdf). For nearly a decade, CELDF has assisted communities to adopt first-in-the-nation laws which refuse to recognize “corporate rights.”
The current activism that’s emerged in the wake of Citizens United – in which the U.S. Supreme Court found that corporate First Amendment “free speech rights” were violated by federal law which limited corporate spending in elections – seeks merely to return to pre-Citizens United days.
Yet, as CELDF examines in its statement, corporate “free speech rights” were around long before Citizens United. Indeed, the origins of corporate constitutional “rights” can be traced back to the early 1800’s in the U.S., and back even further to English common and ecclesiastical law. It is that legal legacy which has provided corporations with not only “free speech rights,” but a litany of other constitutional rights and powers.
In its statement, CELDF calls upon communities, activists, and non-profit organizations to recognize the need to frame the problem far more broadly than just a need to return to the days before Citizens United. As CELDF writes in its statement:
We believe that creating the necessary and desired outcomes requires us to focus not on merely reversing the Supreme Court’s latest expansion of corporate “rights,” but on eliminating the basic (and mostly, unquestioned) authority of corporate minorities to override, and interfere with, democratic decision making by local and state majorities. It is the usurpation of community decision making authority that must be eliminated if we are to have any hope of building truly sustainable and democratic communities.
In addition, in response to requests from communities, today CELDF released a Model Community Bill of Rights Elections Ordinance – securing the right of people to clean government and fair elections, and the right to be free from corporate activities which interfere with those rights. (To view the ordinance, go to: http://celdf.live2.radicaldesigns.org/downloads/CELDF%20MODEL%20ELECTIONS%20ORDINANCE.pdf).
The model ordinance eliminates corporate constitutional “rights” – including corporate “personhood rights,” corporate First Amendment “free speech rights,” and Fifth Amendment “equal protection and due process rights.” Further, the ordinance bans corporations from making contributions or expenditures to influence any election within municipalities which adopt the ordinance.
The model ordinance is drafted to not merely return to a pre-Citizens United legal framework – under which corporations would continue to possess a broad range of constitutional “rights,” powers, and privileges and could actively participate in elections by spending millions of dollars in contributions and expenditures. Rather, the ordinance is drafted with a recognition that the problems we face are far broader than Citizens United, and therefore our response must be far broader as well.
For more information on the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund …