Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Misguided People’s Rights Amendment

The so-called “People’s Rights Amendment” is an attempt to nullify the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The key provision of the proposed amendment states, “People, person, or persons as used in this Constitution does not include corporations.”

An “op-ed” supporting this proposed amendment, written by U.S. Representative Jim McGovern and author Jeff Clements, appeared in the Boston Globe on January 21st, titled “'We the People' can overturn Citizens United.” In a similar vein, the Huffington Post, on January 9th, published an online article by Marge Baker titled “Overturning Citizens United: A Movement Moment.” (My January 10th comment on that article is similar to my letter below.)

These articles illustrate the need for the public to know more about corporations, for the articles are products of widespread public ignorance of the subject. I will seek to remedy this problem by posting a series on corporations. It’s a big subject that will take several months of postings. The first posting will be soon.

Meanwhile, you should know something about why the People’s Rights Amendment is a bad idea. My letter to the editor, published today, introduces the matter. Here is the letter as it appeared in the Boston Sunday Globe in the Ideas section, page K9, January 29, 2012, and also online for subscribers at

Proposal is misguided attempt to reform election financing

THE PEOPLE’S Rights Amendment, as currently drafted, is a misguided attempt to bring about needed reform of the financing of elections ( “ ‘We the People’ can overturn Citizens United,’’ Op-ed, Jan. 21). Such financing reform is desperately needed, but it cannot be attained merely by attacking the personhood of corporations. Since wealthy individuals can distort the funding of elections just as easily as corporations, the electoral reform that is needed is different from and broader in scope than corporate personhood.

Moreover, the Supreme Court initially declared that corporations were persons, not in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010, but in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company in 1886. Even in the colonies prior to the Revolution, corporations (such as they were then) were regarded as artificial persons. Such entities created by law have been instrumental in the development of modern civilization and include not only large business corporations but a multitude of micro and small businesses and charitable nonprofits.

Thus, the People’s Rights Amendment is not only based on a misunderstanding of the history and law of corporations. It also misses the bigger target of wealth’s disproportionate influence over government.

John L. Hodge
Jamaica Plain

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