With my strong support, the Council has unanimously passed a resolution supporting a US Constitutional amendment that would make clear that corporations are not persons. This amendment would help regulate the toxic and out-of-control corporate spending in our political processes, spending that I believe directly threatens our democracy. The Council has also gone on record in our Federal Legislative Agenda supporting transparency in corporate political spending on elections.
The Supreme Court's 5-4 Citizens United decision opened up a flood of unregulated corporate funding that essentially gives moneyed interests the power to buy candidates and elected officials at the federal level. The Supreme Court's recent decision to apply Citizens United to corporate spending on political races in Montana - despite a law from the early 20th Century that banned such spending - makes clear that few if any safeguards from corporate control of our democracy will continue to exist at any level. I fear that it will only be a matter of time before this flood of unregulated corporate dollars begins to affect municipal races.
To put this in context, consider the millions of dollars being spent by Super PACs on the Presidential race or the recent Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election and then look at some of the fundraising totals from past Minneapolis elections. Here's an election I'm very familiar with: the 2005 race for Ward 2 City Council. In that election, my campaign raised and spent a little over $14,000. My opponent raised and spent almost $40,000. That is 44,000 total in a hotly contested City Council seat. If we start seeing Super PAC or Super PAC-like interference with local elections, think about how little money could have a major impact on a race. A late expenditure of even $10,000 could seriously threaten to change the outcome of an election.
One of the key problems of our time is the Gilded Age-style consolidation of wealth at the very top. As this wealth increases, the electoral power of the very wealthy and the corporations they largely control grows. Citizens United and the Montana decision removed all constraints on that power. If US, Minnesota, and Minneapolis democracy is to survive, we need to take actions.
That's what this Council action is designed to do. We've gone on record supporting a Constitution that makes unambiguously clear that only persons are persons, and corporations are something else. We've called on Congress to at least require that the donors seeking to buy elections, whether they are the very wealthy or major corporations, disclose their donations and take responsibility for their "speech."
I'm proud we've taken this step. It would not have been possible without all of the groundwork done by the amazing organizers at Move to Amend, or the Occupy movement.
Amending the constitution is rightfully serious and very difficult to accomplish in the United States today. Yet this amendment is critical to the health of our democracy and, if successful, has the potential to be the most important government reform of this century.
At most we will be able to reclaim our democracy, at least, already, the conversation is changing.