Sanders proposes new amendment

Thursday December 8, 2011


Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders has introduced a constitutional amendment that would overturn a Supreme Court decisionthat granted corporations the same First Amendment rights as individuals.

Sanders said hisSaving American Democracy Amendment would ensure that corporations are not entitled to the same constitutional rights as people, and that corporations can be regulated by Congress and state legislatures. He said his proposed amendment also includes a ban on corporate campaign donations to candidates.

"I do not do this lightly, nor have I ever done something like this before. The U.S. Constitution is an extraordinary document, which has served our country well for over 200 years. And, in my view, it should not be amended often. But, in light of the disastrous Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in the CitizensUnited case, I see no alternative but a constitutionalamendment," Sanders said Thursday on the Senate floor.

In January 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 in Citizens United vs. the Federal Elections Commission that corporations have the same First Amendment free speech rights as people. The ruling allows for "unrestricted and secret campaign spending by corporations on U.S. elections," according to Sanders.

"Corporations can go right into their treasuries," Sanders said in a telephone interview. "Very few people think that that is what democracy is about. This undermines all of the campaign finance law that we have tried to establish over the years."

The amendment is the Senate version of a constitutional amendment previously introduced in the House by Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla.

"The dominance of corporations in Washington has imperiled the economic security of the American people and left our citizens profoundly disenchanted with our democracy," Deutch said in a statement released by Sanders’ office. "I look forward to working with Sen. Sanders to save American democracy by banning all corporate spending in our elections and cracking down on secret front groups using anonymous corporate cash to undermine the public interest."

A constitutional amendment must be approved by a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate. It is then considered by the states. At least three-fourths of the states must ratify to amend the Constitution.

Will the amendment pass the Senate any time soon? "The answer is no," Sanders said. "But you have to put your stake down in the ground and say, ‘This is what I believe,’ and you’ve got to rally the American people."

Fellow Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is also skeptical of passage. Spokesman David Carle said Leahy has held hearings on the "corrosive impact" of the Supreme Court’s decision and co-sponsored legislation to negate it. Legislative action was filibustered by Republicans, though, and likely to happen again, Carle said.

"He strongly believes it was wrongly decided and speaks out about it often. He is an original cosponsor of the DISCLOSE Act, the proposed statutory fix. When he and others tried to pass the DISCLOSE Act, Republicans filibustered it. Of course, that suggests that the likelihood of garnering the supermajority needed for a constitutional amendment is far beyond reach in the current Congress," Carle said.

Leahy believes the case, which has been an issue in the Occupy movement across the country, will play a role in next year’s presidential election because of "growing awareness among the American people," Carle said.

Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich is a co-sponsor.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at


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