Support for Memorial to Overturn Citizens United

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  • Peter Butzin

Peter Butzin, Chair of Common Cause Florida today joined Representative Dwight Dudley (D-St. Petersburg) in a press conference to support for HM 1321, which urges Congress to propose to the states an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to authorize regulation of political contributions & expenditures by corporations be regulated by federal, state, and local governments.

Following are his remarks:

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, “We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both”

He made his remarks amidst the Gilded Age, the period roughly from the 1880’s into the 1930’s, at a time when wealth was disproportionately concentrated among the powerful few.

Today we face a new Gilded Age, but unlike the last, a significant reason for the current plutocracy is a series of horrendous decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court.

The first, Buckley vs. Valeo, in 1976 essentially ruled that financial contributions represent free speech. However, Buckley at least imposed limits on such speech, by upholding disclosure and, in the wake of the Watergate scandal, encouraging small contributions from individual sources and providing for a modest system for partial public funding of Presidential campaigns.

Just five years ago, the Court gutted over a century of legal precedence that had limited corporate financing of campaigns. The case, Citizens United, ruled that corporations have the same free speech rights as individuals, opening the floodgates of lightly regulated, and even unregulated, campaign contributions. And, just a year ago the same Court, in the McCutcheon case ruled that the government cannot prevent citizens from giving campaign contributions to as many different candidates and political parties as they want. And, the Court appears to be hell bent on removing all restrictions on campaign contributions and expenditures.

Meanwhile, Congress has not only refused to impose increased disclosure requirements, but has made the matter even worse by exponentially increasing the limit of political party spending.  And both corporations and individuals can hide so-called “dark money” from public scrutiny by laundering contributions through Chambers of Commerce and similar organizations.

Should we be surprised that reforms championed by the 99% rather than 1% do not see the light of day in Congress and the Florida Legislature? – issues like PSC reform, equitable health care and pension policies, environmental reform, sustainable energy, a livable minimum wage, and civil rights, to mention but a few. The reason is as simple as the “Golden Rule”:  “Those who have the gold, rule”.  We are not willing to stand for our democracy being sold to the highest bidder.

We’re here today to fight back. Our message is simple: money is not speech and corporations are not people. The Supreme Courts’ rulings have helped create a plutocracy that challenges the very essence of our Democracy.

We ask that the Florida Legislature join the 16 states and 655 local governments that have called for Congress to begin the process for adding a 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution—an amendment that would make it clear that corporations are not people and that money is not speech. We decry the Court’s rulings that political corruption exists only when there is actual bribery. We believe the Court is profoundly naïve in failing to recognize that a much more common form of corruption occurs in the form of large campaign contributions, regardless of the source.