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Facing congressional deadlock, state lawmakers and advocates push for the repeal of Citizens United and limits to corporates pending
JAISAL NOOR: On February 11, dozens rallied at the Maryland State Capitol in Annapolis to demand limits on corporate spending and for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.
The 2010 Supreme Court decision found corporations and unions have the same free speech rights as people, and removed restrictions on their spendings on elections. This year, the decision’s impact will fully be felt across the country in local elections in states like Maryland.
JENNIFER BEVAN-DANGEL: This coming election will be where we’ll really see it at play in Maryland. It’ll be the first statewide election after the decision came down. And it’s going to be very interesting to watch the money and see how much the landscape changes.
The other piece we’re watching very closely is the Supreme Court is considering a case called McCutcheon which could eradicate our aggregate limits. And as bad as Citizens United was, McCutcheon is going to be far worse for our local elections here in Baltimore and in Maryland.
NOOR: The event was organized by Get Money Out – Maryland and endorsed by dozens of groups, including Common Cause, the NAACP, and Wolf PAC.
CHARLIE COOPER: I was part of a group that got $1.3 billion added to the state aid to public schools. And that’s $1.3 billion every year forever. And I was feeling pretty good about that and its impact on the public schools, and especially for kids in low-income jurisdictions. It increased their funding greatly.
But lately I’ve felt that the way our federal government has been captured by the corporate and wealthy elite interests, and education, is not going to matter. When my grandchildren grow up, they can be educated, but will they have a decent job and a decent life? And I fear they won’t.
NOOR: Congress is mired in the deadlock and unlikely to take action soon. But that’s not slowing down state legislators like Maryland majority whip Jamie Raskin.
JAMIE RASKIN: The difference now is the Supreme Court has taken down a wall of separation between corporate treasury wealth and public elections. For two centuries, the Supreme Court said that corporations are not political entities; they’re economic entities and they exist for business purposes. And now the Supreme Court has taken that wall down and said, you know, we’re going to open the floodgates so all of that corporate money can pour into our elections. That makes it very hard on people fighting for the environment, fighting for working people’s rights, fighting for human rights when you’ve got the corporations controlling everything with money.
NOOR: Raskin introduced a measure into Maryland’s legislature that would call for a constitutional convention to amend Citizens United. If two-thirds of other states pass similar measures, the convention must occur.
RASKIN: We’ve got to repeal Citizens United, and we’re asking for a constitutional convention to pass an amendment to repeal the decision. And, you know, since the Bill of Rights, we’ve had 17 amendments. Most of them have been about democracy, making democracy stronger and giving power to the people. And so this is very much in that tradition. And we’re hoping that Congress will hear the states and then act.
NOOR: Environmental and civil rights advocates also spoke out at the rally.
ELBRIDGE JAMES: People of color need to have their government provide them with the safety and opportunities, so that in fact we can vote, we can have good jobs, we can have great education, we can have affordable health care, and we can have affordable housing. Corporations are not interested in those things and in fact work against a lot of those issues. In Pennsylvania you had Republicans state that they want to, you know, limit voting so they can put their people in office that will underfund schools and build prisons. If you don’t give me the opportunity to have a better education, how can I qualify for a job?
MIKE TIDWELL: Well, right now my organization is fighting a out-of-state corporation called Dominion Resources that wants to build a massive facility to liquify gas from fracking wells throughout the mid-Atlantic and ship it to Asia. It is a radical plan, environmentally destructive, and we’re trying to stop it.
And the facts are on our side. It’s worse than burning coal, this liquified gas. It’s going to disrupt [incompr.] and it’s going to bring fracking throughout our state. The facts are on our side that this is a bad idea, and it’s much better to build wind power and solar.
But this corporation, Dominion Resources, gives an enormous amount of money to politicians, unrestricted in some ways. They spend an enormous amount of money on political advertising. And it is very hard to overcome the giant megaphone that the Supreme Court has given them, both in terms of financing politicians and all the other things they do with their money in terms of lobbyists and advertising.
And we need reform. Otherwise, the truth means nothing in this country. Environmental facts are useless against this kind of money.
NOOR: Activists say the action in Maryland is just one part of a broader, growing nationwide movement to get money out of politics.
COOPER: We have almost every state that’s in some phase of organizing. I think it’s 42 states where we have a team. We will have 50. We have at least ten states where there will be live resolutions in the state legislatures. We have California, which is one step away from being the first state to make a convention call. And we hope Maryland will be right up there in the next month or two.
NOOR: Reporting for The Real News, this is Jaisal Noor.