Events, Interview — June 25, 2012 at 6:44 am

INTERVIEW: David Cobb from Move to Amend and info on his several Michigan appearances this week


Abolishing corporate personhood and getting money out of elections is a principle, not an “issue”

The national organization/movement Move to Amend is working to amend the U.S. constitution to abolish corporate personhood that gives corporations constitutionally-protected civil liberties and to get money out of elections by ensuring that money is no longer viewed as constitutionally-protected speech.

Their amendment is simple:

Move to Amend Proposed Amendment

Section 1 [Corporations are not people and can be regulated]

The rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons only.

Artificial entities, such as corporations, limited liability companies, and other entities, established by the laws of any State, the United States, or any foreign state shall have no rights under this Constitution and are subject to regulation by the People, through Federal, State, or local law.

The privileges of artificial entities shall be determined by the People, through Federal, State, or local law, and shall not be construed to be inherent or inalienable.

Section 2 [Money is not speech and can be regulated]

Federal, State and local government shall regulate, limit, or prohibit contributions and expenditures, including a candidate’s own contributions and expenditures, for the purpose of influencing in any way the election of any candidate for public office or any ballot measure.

Federal, State and local government shall require that any permissible contributions and expenditures be publicly disclosed.

The judiciary shall not construe the spending of money to influence elections to be speech under the First Amendment.

Section 3

Nothing contained in this amendment shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.

David Cobb is currently on a national speaking tour to bring attention to Move to Amend’s efforts. The tour, called The 2012 Barnstorming Tour, is coming to the Midwest this week. Details on the tour itself can be found by clicking the graphic below. The Midwest stops this week are at the end of the post including information on his presentation THIS FRIDAY IN ANN ARBOR.

I spoke to David Cobb by phone over the weekend about Move to Amend, what they are trying to accomplish and what we can do at the local level to help with the effort. Our conversation is below.

What’s involved in amending the Constitution in the way you are attempting to do?

It’s going to require a mass social movement. Let’s just take a look at the specific change that’s going to be required: it takes approval from two-thirds of Congress or two-thirds of the states to call {…} and then it takes approval from three-quarters of the states to ratify. So, it’s going to take a broad and deep social movement.

[NOTE: details of the amendment process can be found HERE.]

What time of time frame do you have in mind to make this happen?

From start to finish, I think we’re ten years out. Within those ten years, we’re going to see a politicization of the concept of corporate constitutional rights and the outrageous idea that money equals speech. In other words, we’ll see candidates for office being forced to take a position on our call for a constitutional amendment, and we’re already beginning to see that.

Over 250 communities have already passed resolutions in support of Move to Amend and, more exciting to me, seven communities have actually put this issue on the ballot where voters get to actually weigh in on it. Every single it’s been on the ballot, we’ve won by overwhelming majorities.

Most exciting to me is what happened in West Allis, Wisconsin, which is a conservative suburb of Milwaukee that went for Bush in overwhelming majorities in 2000 and 2004 and for McCain in 2008. We got it on the ballot in the Republican Party primary there and that was the Wisconsin primary where Santorum was still challenging Mitt Romney. So, you had a huge turnout in the Republican base in a Republican stronghold. In that election, we won by over 72% of the vote.

This has broad appeal across party labels and across ideologies.

That’s pretty rare. But when I watched the Santorum campaign after they got beat by Mitt Romney with all the money he spent in that race, it seemed like this kind of thing would be right up their alley. This is the kind of thing that should energize pretty much anyone in politics when you see what can happen.

Well, that’s right. And what we’re seeing is that rank and file members of both major political parties are incredibly supportive. I think it’s worth pointing out that principled liberals have been lied to and sold out by the leadership of the Democratic Party which is at the behest and control of Wall Street and the Big Bankers just as surely as principled conservatives have been lied to and sold out by the leadership of the Republican Party that’s operating at the behest of Wall Street and bankers.

It’s going to take a mass movement from the bottom and the grassroots to actually make this change.

It seems like there are a fair number of groups out there that are working toward some element of either reversing Citizens United or establishing the fact that corporations are not people and that money is not speech. Is there coordination between these various groups? I’m thinking of groups like Common Cause and and the labor unions.

To be sure, we are absolutely coordinating with these other groups. Representatives from Move to Amend participate on conference calls every other week with these groups and I’m glad that there are other groups that are taking this on. I will point out that Move to Amend was formed by individuals and organizations who have been working on corporate constitutional rights for well over a decade and Move to Amend is a multiracial, multi-ethnic coalition of existing groups. We have several hundred organizations that we’re working with and Move to Amend as a coalition is the only group that is specifically focused on abolishing ALL corporate constitutional rights and establishing that money is not speech, tying those two issues, which we think must be tied together.

If we get control over the corporation as an instrument but still allow the wealthy individuals to control our elections, then we’ve really missed an opportunity. Likewise, if we get money out of elections, but still allow corporate lawyers to overturn democratically-enacted laws that attempt to control the corporation and overturn environmental protection laws and worker safety laws and public health laws, we’ve missed an opportunity.

We are happy to work with and coordinate & collaborate with other groups and, more importantly, to invite them in to the coalition that Move to Amend is becoming.

When did Move to Amend start?

We did not form as a coalition until 2010 and already we have over 350 organizations that have endorsed, we have over 100 local affiliates — our partner affiliates — and we have over 205,000 active participants who are specifically dedicated to abolishing all constitutional corporate rights and getting money out of elections.

It seems like you are really tapping into something that people all over are concerned about. I know when you spoke in Traverse City last winter that had an overflow crowd of over 400 people which, for Traverse City, is a pretty big deal.

Absolutely. And, I think it’s worth pointing out that David Cobb is not a celebrity and I don’t say that with any ego. I’m just pointing out that these huge crowds are showing up because of a desire to participate in a movement to get money out of elections and abolish corporate constitutional rights. So, I actually think it’s very exciting that huge crowds are coming out to participate in the movement.

I agree and, on a personal note, I’ve been saying for the past two years that if I could find something that I truly believed could be successful at getting money out of politics, I would pretty much drop everything else I am doing to work on it because it’s this underlying bedrock under all of the discussions that we have politically and socially right now. All of these debates and discussions are corrupted and redirected because of the money.

I agree with you and, for me, it is as you say a foundational issue. It’s a principle; it’s not even an issue, that the United States constitution is the supreme law of the land. It is supposed to act as a set of guiding principles. It shouldn’t be something that only the left or only the right can look to.

That’s the reason that Move to Amend is so successful because we can tap into the best principles and values of both liberals and conservatives who, even though we may disagree issues, we can agree on the fundamental principle that the United States of America is supposed to operate as a democratic republic where “we the people” are sovereign, we hold the political power, elected representatives represent us — who are subordinate and accountable to us — and the idea that a democratically-enacted law from the majority cannot violate the civil liberties of the minority. But the idea that a corporation has civil liberties is absurd and everyone knows it.

You spoke earlier about local resolutions. To what extent are those useful? Here in Washtenaw County, a fledgling working group is forming to work on the issues of corporate personhood and money as speech. At our first meeting last week, we talked about doing two different things. One is to support the national movement and get out there and collection petition signatures. They other would be to act more locally and get, for example, local municipalities to pass resolutions. In your mind, what can be done locally that’s effective?

First we would encourage you to consider joining Move to Amend as an affiliate or a partnering organization so that you can coordinate. We have monthly phone calls, we have webinars, we have tools and resources that we make available to local affiliates and partnering affiliates.

The local work is really the key because this is where we can build the power base that’s going to be necessary to shift the culture and to actually win. Because I don’t want to be just intellectually correct, which we are!, I want to WIN! I expect to actually amend the constitution within a decade.

The local work is key because that’s where the building blocks are that are going to be required.

The idea of resolutions does several things at once. First and foremost, it gives local activists such as yourself and me in my local community where I do this work, it gives us something concrete and tangible to do to educate people who are horrified when they realize corporations can claim constitutional rights.

It’s getting to the point where it’s actually quite easy to collect signatures because more and more people are hearing about. I personally have had the experience where I’ve been approached when people are walking by and they hear me give the quick rap about what I’m doing and the Move to Amend effort to abolish corporate personhood and get money out of elections. I’ve been actually approached by people who overhear it and basically hang out in a group, waiting for their opportunity to sign one of the clipboards. I’ve personally never had that experience on any other work I’ve done besides Move to Amend.

The other component part that I want to touch on is how exciting it is to be educating people and be educated by them, people who are now starting to talk about this because they’ve learned the history and are eager to share it with other folks as well. And, to see this cross-pollinating across different groups, across different ideologies, even across party labels. That’s incredibly exciting.

And lastly, I’ll just remind your readers of this important fact: the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America was a resolution. The resolution as a political tactic to draw a line in the sand, to assert the political sentiment of a particular jurisdiction is a very powerful way to exercise our voice. It’s not enough alone but it is a critical first step toward building the movement that’s ultimately going to take our country back.

The 2012 Barnstorming Tour stops this week are as follows:

[David Cobb image: screen cap from video by PE Westlake. Barnstorming 2012 Tour graphic courtesy of Move to Amend, used with permission.]