Vermont Voters Endorse Challenge to Corporate Personhood

Rebecca Burns

A demonstration calling for the overturn of Citizens United in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on February 23. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
When Vermont voters went to the polls on Super Tuesday, they were presented with more than a choice of their preferred Republican presidential candidate. Local ballot initiatives also offered many the chance to condemn the corporate election spending that has permeated the primary race, and more than 50 Vermont towns have voted to endorse a Constitutional amendment overturning the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision.In addition to a Republican primary, which resulted in a win in the state for Mitt Romney, Vermont held its annual “Town Meeting Day” on Tuesday. The day is typically used to elect local officers and vote on budgets, but this year localities across the state included on their ballots initiatives calling on Vermont legislators and the state’s congressional delegation to support a constitutional amendment to end corporate personhood. At least 53 towns have voted in favor of the nonbinding resolution, with two so far failing to pass it.
The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, in which the Supreme Court ruled that limits to independent political spending violated the First Amendment, has opened the floodgates of corporate spending in elections. So far in the 2012 election cycle, a total of 42 super PACs have spent $69.8 million, according to reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission.The passage of nonbinding resolutions in Vermont – spearheaded by groups like Public Citizen and Move to Amend in coordination with local activists—is part of a broader strategy to build support for a Constitutional amendment at the state level. The Constitutional amendment process may be initiated either with an endorsement from both houses of Congress, which then must be ratified by three-fourths of state legislatures; or with a request from two-thirds of state legislatures for a Constitutional convention.But campaigners have sought to fast-track this process by lobbying state legislatures to demand that Congress pass an amendment reversing Citizens United. In February, New Mexico became the second state, following Hawaii, to pass such a resolution in its state legislature.Anti-Citizens United legislation is currently being considered by state legislatures in California, Massachusetts, Washington and Maryland. In January, Vermont Senators Virginia Lyons and John Campbell introduced a similar resolution, and organizers hope that the local endorsements will aid its passage.Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who has introduced federal legislation that would restore the power of Congress to set campaign spending limits, praised Tuesday’s outcome.“Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, Town Meeting Day voters understood that corporations are not people,” he said. “The resounding results will send a strong message that corporations and billionaires should not be allowed to buy candidates and elections with unlimited, undisclosed spending on political campaigns.”

Rebecca Burns is an In These Times contributing editor and award-winning investigative reporter. Her work has appeared in Bloomberg, the Chicago Reader, ProPublica, The Intercept, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter @rejburns.

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