Maine group seeks Constitutional Convention to affirm that ‘corporations are not people’

Posted Dec. 11, 2013, at 9:18 a.m.
Last modified Dec. 11, 2013, at 3:59 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A group of Mainers who oppose unlimited third-party spending in elections gathered in Augusta on Wednesday to urge the Legislature to call for a rare national Constitutional Convention to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling.

A group called We the People Maine went to the State House on Wednesday to deliver a formal request for the Legislature to apply for a Constitutional Convention of States to overturn Citizens United and establish that “corporations are not people and money is not speech,” a release from the group states.

In the landmark Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission decision, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Constitution’s First Amendment protects independent expenditures from corporations, associations and labor unions in elections as a form of free speech.

Sen. Edward Youngblood, R-Brewer, who earlier this year sponsored a bill to strengthen Maine’s public campaign financing law, signed the application. The group intends to launch a statewide campaign to collect the signatures of more than 60,000 voters required to compel the Legislature to request a Constitutional Convention.

Two-thirds of states (34) must pass a similar initiative to convene a Constitutional Convention.

“We need to do more things that take some of the big money out of the political process,” said Youngblood, who in his three elections to the Senate has funded his campaigns as a Maine Clean Elections candidate. “I don’t believe that I ought to be indebted to anyone in making a decision here in Augusta. … Hopefully someday one of these attempts that many, many groups have tried will be successful in controlling the amount of independent expenditures that go into our elections at every single level in our country.”

A Constitutional Convention is a gathering of delegates from each state for the purpose of proposing changes to the U.S. Constitution that would then require ratification in three-quarters (38) of the states. Groups dissatisfied with federal laws or judicial decisions often have called for them, but there has not been a Constitutional Convention since the first one in 1787.

While the effort is not likely to result in a Constitutional Convention, it could galvanize public support for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. In March, independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida proposed a constitutional amendment that would “expressly exclude for-profit corporations from the rights given to natural persons by the Constitution of the United States, prohibit corporate spending in all elections, and affirm the authority of Congress and the states to regulate corporations and to regulate and set limits on all election contributions and expenditures.”

The group’s petition application includes the signatures of six people: one applicant and five “designated voters.” Naomi Cohen, coordinator of We the People Maine, is the official applicant. The other signatories are Youngblood; attorney Philip Worden of Northeast Harbor; Portland City Councilor David Marshall; Jacqui Deveneau, chairwoman of Greater Portland Move to Amend; and Bruce Gagnon of Bath, a well-known peace and political activist.

Rep. Jeff Evangelos, I-Friendship, also supports the effort.

“It really shouldn’t have come to this, the amount of money that has taken over our elections,” he said Wednesday at the State House. “The American people have had enough of this. They’re tired. Only the politicians at the very top are the beneficiaries, and the corporations behind them. This is the beginning of the end for them.”

The group is advocating for a constitutional amendment that says corporations are not people and money is not speech for election purposes. Asked by the Bangor Daily News whether holding a Constitutional Convention is a drastic measure, Cohen said there are few other viable options. The Supreme Court overturning its own decision is one option and action by Congress is another. Neither is likely, she said.

“There have been 26 bills [on independent expenditures] in Congress, but they don’t have a chance of reaching the floor,” she said. “If you are a representative and you have the courage to stand up against the corporate dollars, corporations are going to just sweep you out of the office in the next election with their billions of dollars.”

Cohen said the petition drive will begin as soon as the language on the petition is approved by the secretary of state’s office. Asked whether the signatures will be gathered by volunteers, she said she hopes so.

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