This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Money plays an enormous, disproportionate role in modern American politics. In many respects, We the People no longer control our government; big money interests, especially those of global corporations and Wall Street banks, have taken over, blocking progress on issues that really matter to ordinary citizens.
The American public is increasingly unhappy about this state of affairs. In a recent CBS News poll, the question was posed: "Currently, groups not affiliated with a candidate are able to spend unlimited amounts of money on advertisements during a political campaign. Do you think this kind of spending should be limited by law, or should it remain unlimited?"
More than three-fourths responded, "Limited by law."
Here in Salt Lake City, after a massive canvassing campaign by Move to Amend volunteers one year ago, the citizens of Salt Lake City voted overwhelmingly to assert our rightful political sovereignty. Responding to an opinion question mailed by the City to every registered voter in Salt Lake, more than 89 percent of the 19,607 respondents agreed that corporations are not "people" and money is not "speech." It was the highest turnout rate for any election or ballot in the city since 2007. The City Council and mayor have been urged to consider a resolution reflecting this result.
Beyond an official city resolution, Move to Amend Salt Lake is advocating an ordinance limiting big money in our city elections. We want a citywide ban on all direct corporate contributions to candidates, a restriction that already exists in many cities (e.g., New York, San Francisco, Minneapolis, San Diego), in 21 states (including Texas), and on the federal level.
Ultimately, we need even more widespread reforms to greatly reduce the role of big money in politics. Unfortunately, the current U.S. Supreme Court has taken the opposite tack, giving big-money interests, especially corporations, more power than ever before. In their wrongheaded Citizens United (2010) decision, the court ruled 5-4 that corporations are entitled to the same constitutional freedoms as human beings and that money is a form of "speech" protected by the First Amendment. Not surprisingly, our elections since then have been deluged with corporate money.
Given the court's pro-corporate bias, our only recourse as citizens is a 28th Amendment to the Constitution declaring (1) that only natural persons have constitutional rights, and (2) that money is not "speech" and therefore can be regulated in election campaigns. Congress has shown that it will not do this on its own; too many members are already in the pockets of big-money interests. What's needed is a nationwide uprising by ordinary citizens.
A number of grassroots movements led by Move to Amend have taken up the challenge. More than 500 cities and towns across America have now passed resolutions supporting the two principles mentioned above.
In a magnificent dissent to the Citizens United ruling, Justice John Paul Stevens made these remarks: "At bottom, the court's opinion is … a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics."
It is time We the People re-took ownership of our country. Be a part of it and make your voice heard, whether by communicating with your political representatives or just your family members and friends. We can do this!
Thomas Huckin is a professor emeritus at the University of Utah and a member of Move to Amend Salt Lake.