NEWBURY — Signatures were filed March 27 with the town clerk for a citizen's petition that calls on Congress to pass and send to the states for ratification a Constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The petition seeks a vote at the May 22 annual Town Meeting.
After town counsel reviews the document and the town clerk verifies that 10 registered voters have signed it, it will be sent to selectmen to place on the warrant.
On the same day the Newbury petition was filed, the Newburyport City Council unanimously adopted a resolution regarding the same court decision. A similar article has been submitted for the April 27 West Newbury annual Town Meeting via a citizen's petition.
"This 5-4 Supreme Court decision has unleashed a flood of money into our democracy that is choking the unique role of voters in selecting our elected officials, especially at the state and national levels," according to John Harwood, one of those who initiated the citizen's petition.
He said he was inspired to join the national movement by his church, after the 2011 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association adopted an Action of Immediate Witness that urged member congregations, including the First Religious Society in Newburyport, to support a 28th amendment to the Constitution. Other towns and cities, state legislatures and even Congress itself have adopted or are considering a similar step.
Harwood's wife, Joan, who helped circulate the petition, noted that in his book "Corporations Are Not People," author Jeffrey Clements emphasizes that some of the corporations that are heaping money on candidates aren't even U.S. or foreign firms; they are global businesses controlled by institutions, the super rich and even other countries all over the world.
"That's not free speech; that's foreign control of our democracy," she said.
The Newbury citizen's petition reads in part:
"In a 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court held for the first time that corporations, both for-profit and not-for-profit, and unions have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts from their treasuries to support or oppose candidates for elected office. Prohibitions on corporate political donations, according to the court, violate the First Amendment-guaranteed free speech rights of corporations.
"This ruling essentially established that according to the meaning and intent of the First Amendment, corporations should be treated as natural persons and that money equals free speech.
"While special interest money was always a concern in elections, corporations, including foreign corporations, may now intervene directly in elections, taking power away from voters.
"Therefore, be it resolved that it is the sense of the Town of Newbury, in Town Meeting assembled, that the Constitution of the United States ought to be amended to the effect that, corporations are not people and do not have the same constitutional rights as human beings, the people have the right to regulate corporations, corporations are prohibited from making campaign contributions, and Congress and states shall have the power to set reasonable limits on election spending."
For more, contact Harwood, 978-462-0723, or email@example.com.