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January 05, 2012
States, Cities Call for End of Corporate Personhood
    by Robert Kropp

California joins Vermont in calling for a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United, and the New York City Council joins Los Angeles in unanimously supporting an amendment.

January 20 will mark the second anniversary of the Citizens United decision by the US Supreme Court, which effectively granted corporations the rights of people and opened the floodgates for corporate political spending to influence elections.

Within weeks of the 2010 decision, sustainable investors and other shareowner activists began engaging with companies, requesting that they voluntarily disclose their political expenditures including payments to politically active trade associations such as the US Chamber of Commerce.

Citing a study that associated corporate political spending with lower shareowner returns, investor coalitions led by the Center for Political Accountability (CPA) have thus far persuaded 90 major US corporations to voluntarily disclose their contributions. More than half the companies listed on the S&P 100 have done so.

In addition, an influential group of securities law experts petitioned the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in August, asking it to require public companies to disclose their political spending policies. A number of institutional investors, including members of the Council of Institutional Investors (CII) and the International Corporate Governance Network (ICGN), followed with expressions of support for the petition.

But there is a difference between disclosure and reinstating meaningful limits on corporate political contributions. Especially in the wake of populist unrest stirred up by the Occupy Movement, many state and local governments have come to recognize the necessity of a constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court decision.

Last week, the Vermont legislature became the first in the nation to call for such an amendment. The resolution was written with the help of David Cobb, the 2004 Green Party presidential candidate and a member of Move to Amend, an organization committed to "ending the illegitimate legal doctrines that prevent the American people from governing ourselves," according to its website.

Yesterday, the California State Assembly followed suit, when Democrats Michael Allen and Bob Wieckowski introduced a similar resolution.

The New York City Council unanimously voted in favor of the resolution yesterday. The Los Angeles City Council did so, also by a unanimous vote, last month.

And in Montana last week, the State Supreme Court overturned a District Court ruling and reinstated the state's century-old prohibition against political expenditures by corporations to support or oppose candidates for public office.

In order for a constitutional convention to be convened to pass a constitutional amendment, 34 state assemblies have to ratify the amendment beforehand.


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