On January 18, Common Cause will launch their “Amend 2012″ campaign as part of a growing movement against the free-flow of corporate cash into the American electoral system. “Amend 2012″ will put voter instruction measures on state ballots that give voters the chance to tell their congressional representatives to adopt an amendment denying personhood to corporations.
It’s a strategy with a long history in American politics. Constituent instructions played a key role in the adoption of early constitutional amendments. Almost all of the early American colonies used instructions from assemblies of voters to order their elected representatives to take specific positions.
Voter instructions were one of the tactics used to pass the 17th Amendment for the direct election of Senators. In 1908 Oregon voters achieved direct election of U.S. Senators by passing a ballot measure that instructed the state legislature to appoint to the U.S. Senate the candidates who received the highest number of votes in the general election. Soon other states started using the Oregon model to ensure that more Senators who were, in effect, elected based on popular vote to become advocates for the 17th Amendment, leading to its passage in 1913.
The time is right for a campaign like this. In 2010 the Hawaii legislature passed a resolution requesting Congress pass a constitutional amendment to clarify the distinction between corporations and natural persons and preserve the power of Congress and the states to limit corporate political expenditures. In 2011 the Hawaii House followed up by passing a stronger version that “urged” Congress to pass an amendment providing that corporations are not persons. Similar resolutions have since followed in Vermont, California and New York City.
Make no mistake about it, this will not be an easy task. It takes 68 votes for a constitutional amendment to clear the U.S. Senate, and considering how intent corporations are in keeping their personhood status, there will be lots of pressure on Senators to reject these non-binding instructions. But with your help, in the form of direct lobbying and grassroots pressure instructions passed in 12-14 states could lay that groundwork. Once through the Senate 38 states would need to ratify the amendment, with the foundation for ratification already in place through the efforts at the Senate.
Yes, this is hard, and yes it is technical, wonky stuff. But corporate interests are relying on voter apathy and exhaustion. They are not prepared for a citizenry armed with a true desire to demand transparency and accountability in their elections. For once, the momentum is on our side. Let’s take it.
Photo from Kevin Burkett via flickr.