Interview — October 7, 2013 at 7:01 am

INTERVIEW: David Cobb on Move to Amend’s efforts to end the “kinder & gentler” fascism of corporate personhood


If money is speech, democracy is compromised because some voices speak louder than others

Move to Amend is a national group with a single focus: to pass a constitutional amendment that ends corporate personhood and the legal rights that it gives to corporations and to end the idea that money is speech to stop the nearly endless amount of money being used to influence our elections, public policy, and government officials.

Here is their amendment:

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.

In June of 2012, Move to Amend’s David Cobb came to Michigan on a “barnstorming tour”. At that time, I interviewed David (HERE) and we covered his presentation in Ann Arbor (HERE).

Late last month, David Cobb returned to Michigan to give talks in several places including in Ann Arbor. I sat down with him to catch up with him and the progress Move to Amend has made in the past 15 months.

Good to see you. Welcome back to Michigan. What brings you back?

To be clear, I’m back here in Michigan because we at Move to Amend try to be everywhere. I could give you a very “Rah, rah, Michigan!” answer but, the fact of the matter is, this week we have three people touring the country on behalf of Move to Amend. I’m here in Michigan. Ashley Sanders is in Washington state. Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap is in New Mexico. And we have yet another person going for the weekend’s 90-year anniversary for the Highlander Folk School where Move to Amend is doing a presentation.

So, we’re basically everywhere that we can be.

We talked last in June of 2012. At that time you had a fairly long list of affiliate organizations. What’s happened since then? How are things going as far as growth?

I have to be candid, by every single measure, we’re getting larger, stronger, and better organized. Today we have three hundred and eight thousand supporters who are participating with Move to Amend. We have over 1,000 endorsing organizations. We have helped to pass over 500 local resolutions across the country. We have put the issue on the ballot 28 times, winning every single one of them.

Most importantly, the idea of corporate constitutional rights is becoming discussed and it’s forced into the public conversation in ways that it was not two years ago.

I think the 2012 presidential election really drove that in a lot of ways. That really brought it to people’s attention, thanks to Mitt Romney.

The reference that you’re making, I suspect, is to Romney’s statement that, “Corporations are people, my friend”. It’s worth pointing that that conversation was started by a Move to Amend supporter and affiliate member who cornered Mitt Romney at the Iowa State Fair, set him up with that question, and then, deeper still, the corporate media never covered that. It was him and other supporters that put it up and then it went viral. People like you, that is citizen journalists then picked it up. That entire phenomenon of that becoming a meme in the presidential election year was 100% driven by citizens and citizen journalists.

I listed to your interview with Tony Trupiano on the radio last night and you sort of finished up by saying that we need to be focusing on the larger percentage of things that we agree on rather than on what we don’t disagree on. I agree 100% with you on that. But I do notice that groups like Common Cause and Represent.US aren’t affiliated with Move to Amend. Is there animosity there or you working on different things? Represent.US has got their own sort of approach to this issue through legislation, for example.

I think it’s based on an understanding that there are different ways, reactions, approaches, and tactics. It would be a huge mistake to say that, because someone is not following the same tactic that we do that we’re not collaborating or corroborating. They’re not exclusive and, to be very explicit, it’s very clear that there are good folks who are working on legislative approaches to corporate power, corporate rule, and money in elections. Now, I don’t believe that that’s enough. But I would never tell anybody not to support a legislative approach and only deal with the constitutional amendment approach.

Likewise, I would hope that anyone working on a legislative approach would recognize the need to do a constitutional approach, as well. It’s not “either/or”; it should be “both/and”.

So there are two distinct approaches happening simultaneously.

Right. And, when we’re at our best, we’re recognizing how to be working together in sort of a united front. That phrase “united front” actually comes out of an understanding “united front against facism”. I just want to be very explicit and clear: I think that’s a very real thing that we need to be coming to terms with in this country. To paraphrase Bush the elder, it’s a kinder, gentler facism.

It’s more diabolical in that way.

It IS more diabolical, isn’t it? Because it’s a bit more subtle!

Seems more comfortable.

We have to remember that it was Mussolini who said fascism correctly understood should be called “corporatism” because it merges the economic might of our corporations with the military might of the state. And he supported it. He was a proponent and an advocate of fascism; he thought that was a good thing.

So, as we look to at the heightening nationalism, the imperialism that U.S. foreign policy has become, the corporate control of the state itself, this is very real. That’s why, when I find somebody who may not agree with me on exactly what to do, if they are concerned about the corporate takeover of our government, I’m going to do my best to find some common ground with them. Even if I can’t be in agreement with them, I at least want to recognize that we’ve got some commonality.

Over the past year, I have shifted my focus away from looking at things as being between Republicans vs. Democrats liberals vs. conservatives in terms of the epic battle for the minds, hearts, and souls of the American people to one of us fighting corporatism. I really do believe that if you trace our major political battles back to their roots, you find corporatism. And it’s not just rich people in government, it’s rich corporate people in government who are affecting our laws and shaping public policy in order to benefit themselves.

There’s no doubt. In a very real way, it’s not “left vs. right”, it’s “up vs. down” or “top vs. bottom”. Let’s thank the Occupy movement for coming up with the 99% meme and what that means and recognition that there’s so much in common.

You can then take that one step further. What I have found is that principled liberals have been lied to and sold out by the ruling elite of the Democratic Party who are basically carrying water for corporate America and Wall Street. But, you know what? Principled conservatives have been lied to and sold out by the ruling elite of the Republican Party who are carrying water for the same corporate masters. So this notion of just Democrat vs. Republican I think misses the bigger point that there really is a ruling elite in this country. They are using the corporation as an instrument and a tool to consolidate wealth, power, and decision making authority. It’s fundamentally undemocratic and it’s fundamentally un-American.

So, when we can find some ways to find some common ground around a commitment to the American values of liberty, justice, and equality and the recognition that there is a history of ordinary Americans actually finding that common ground and grappling through it, we should seize it. It’s not going to be easy but that’s really the work of this generation.

I always struck by how the tea party seems to mouth the precepts of independence and grassroots and “we the people” and yet they seem to be very much led by corporate people who are sending them out to do their bidding. Do you interact with these people enough to have that conversation with them? And, if you do, do they “see the light”? Are you able to convince people?

Absolutely and I can. Listen, I’ve had enough interactions with tea partiers to know that there is a thread within the tea party that is very angry at the fact that they feel that they’ve been taken over and they are right. I want to remind you that the tea party phenomenon actually came up and out of an anger at the TARP bailout, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, right? That, of course, was hatched between President Bush and president-elect Obama together. It was in that moment when Bush was still in office and Obama was the president-elect. So it was very clear that this was both a Bush and Obama plan but that Obama would be in office when it was mostly implemented. Not entirely but mostly.

When it came out, there was huge dissatisfaction with it across the political spectrum, across ideology. Both the left and the right and moderates alike, that was a very unpopular plan because it seemed to be bailing out the rich. And you know why? Because it WAS bailing out the rich! It was basically bailing out the bankers who destroyed the economy.

Bluntly, let’s just be honest about it: the anger at Wall Street America, that’s typically been a progressive left fight. That’s our territory. I think that too many progressives were unwilling to go an protest because Obama was elected and because, let’s honor the fact that the first African American had been elected president and that deserved to be celebrated. But it gave cover, if you will, for that horrific bailout of Wall Street and the bankers and, so, there was about a six to eight week time period where the tea party movement genuinely was an independent, authentic, populist reaction. I know because I went to some of those rallies and, at least in my hometown, they weren’t typical activists of either the left or the right variety. They were just pissed off.

And, let’s also name the fact that, because there was this sort of void of leadership and void of organizers and it was just this sort of random explosion, the Koch brothers then spent millions of dollars and sent in slick, glossy materials and they basically highjacked the tea party, right?

I also think it’s interesting that, if you think about it, imagine if you will, and maybe on Eclectablog you’ve got the capacity to write a Venn diagram of it — I didn’t create this but there’s the idea that on one side there’s a circle that represents the Occupy movement. The other circle you have the tea party, right? The tea party, what are they angry about? Well it’s “the gubmint”, right? Where I’m from we say “the gubmint”. “Big gubmint”.

And what is Occupy angry about? Well, it’s in their name: Wall Street. Occupy Wall Street.

But, like any Venn diagram, if you look at them, there’s sweet spot of intersection, right? And that spot of intersection is the acknowledgment that Wall Street America has taken over government to the extent that the government is only writing laws that benefit the wealthy.

NOTE: Here at Eclectablog, we DO have the capacity to create Venn diagrams:

Venn diagram by Anne C. Savage

The point I’m making is that, if you can find principled people in Occupy who will be thoughtful and engaged and really think through the process and you can find thoughtful folks within the tea party, you’ll find a hell of a lot of common ground.

Do you think that will happen? I worry about groups that are otherwise nearly 180 degrees from each other being able to actually work together on this common issue.

Well, let’s put it this way, I don’t think you’re going to find organizational common ground. I think individually you’re going to find common ground. You know how I know this? Come to my house for Thanksgiving. I mean that very sincerely because I am related to people who self-identify as tea party supporters and if I’m patient with them and if I’m clear that there are certain topics we’re just not going to discuss because we so fundamentally disagree and let’s not ruin our family time together, but if we recognize that there are some things that are just off limits and look for where we have common ground, it’s really interesting how quick we get to a recognition that we do have common ground and that there’s this shared belief that a small number of elite who are running the show.

Now, I happen to believe that the solution to that is the democratic state. They think that that’s the problem and that’s where that starts to break down.

In terms of your goal of having a constitutional amendment, the only path to that is through Congress, right?

No, no, not entirely. I want remind you that Article V of the Constitution gives us two paths. One is that Congress proposes with two-thirds of the members supporting. The other path is that two-thirds of the states call for a Constitutional Convention. Now that path is a “Y” in the road, right? There is a point at which you have to choose which path at that “Y” that you are going to take. But, there’s a long political path that you have go down before you have to choose either a state legislative constitutional convention or a Congressional proposal.

So, all I’m getting at is this: we’ve got to cover a lot of political ground and do a lot of education and engagement first. And not education so that people can be a good Trivial Pursuit player sort of education. I’m saying that consciousness has to be raised. We have to get people to the point where they are grappling with the question of, “Who is in control here? What the hell happened? WHY did it happen? What can we do about it?” That, I think, is the strength of Move to Amend and the reason why Move to Amend is growing by leaps and bounds is because we’re actually trying to create the space for honest conversation about who rules this country and what is the intersection between social, political, and economic institutions and the consolidation of power within them.

It seems that the groundwork that you’re laying as you travel up the stem of the “Y” could benefit both sides of the “Y”, no matter which path you end up taking.

At the end of the day, Chris, you’re absolutely right, that the political education, the consciousness raising is not an abstraction. It’s preparing people to flex their political, civic muscle. And, you know, you look like you’re in reasonable shape. You know that you don’t go and try to snatch lift 300 pounds from one day to the next. You have to exercise and build yourself up to it. That’s what political civic exercise is really like. It’s not just going and pulling a lever to vote. That’s important, you better do that. But you also better be willing to go to the Heritage Festival in Ypsilanti, for example, and engage people in political conversations.

Move to Amend is rolling out a national canvassing project where we’re helping people who are willing to actually engage in a door-knocking campaign about some of the core issues going on in this country. We are rolling out a “Pledge to Amend” campaign. We’re giving people the tools that we think are important to be able to build this movement and then we’re giving them practical exercise, experience, and training on how to use those tools.

Do you speak to conservative groups?



No. I’d say 5 to 10 percent of the time when I give a talk it’s to a conservative group.

Is it hard to get them to invite you?

You have to remember that the engagements that I do are self-selecting which is to say that we are being invited. It’s not inviting David Cobb, it’s inviting Move to Amend. Now, I can say that almost all of the conservative invitations have come because some brave conservative has come to an event, liked what they heard, and then said, “Would you be willing to come back at some point?” I’ll never forget a time in Fort Collins somebody came to me and said, “I agree with 90% of what you had to say. I’d like to invite you back. I can get you about 50 people here to come hear you. But, before I do, I gotta tell ya who it is and you may not want to come.” And he said, “It’s the Fort Collins, Colorado Tea Party.” I told him that would love to come.

I’ve seen your presentation and it seems like something that would really resonate with those people. Did it?

It did! Now, you have to understand, I tell the same story. But I use a little different language. It’s not disingenuous. I’m still making my point. But I use the language people understand.

You’re meeting them where they are.

Where they are, but engaging them in an honest way. But I’ll tell you this, Chris, I can give the presentation that I give to a university crowd, I can give it to a college-educated crowd, and you know what else, Chris? I can basically engage this conversation in a pool hall or a bowling alley. And it goes something like this: “Man, you think the boss man’s got his boot on your neck?” And they’ll usually say, “Yup, and his foot up my ass, too!” And from there we end up in a conversation. The vernacular may be a little more salty but we’re having the same basic conversation about who is ruling in this country!

As we prepared to leave for David’s Ann Arbor presentation, we chatted briefly about what’s happening in Michigan, including the proliferation of failing schools and cities across the state.

“You know the Emergency Financial Manager thing you have here, you ought to rename it ‘Emergency FASCIST Manager,” David told me. “Because that is the most outrageous example of fascism in the country today.”

To learn more about Move to Amend and their affiliate groups, visit their website HERE and find them on Facebook HERE.