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Handy Bill would Let Voters Revoke Corporate Personhood in RI

The hearing is tonight at the State House.

Former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney famously told a man at a campaign stop that "corporations are people, my friend."

According to the law, he's right, but in Rhode Island, corporations could see their personhood status revoked if a bill by Cranston Rep. Arthur Handy goes through.

Rhode Island will be the first state in the country to consider legislation that would give voters the right to revoke corporate personhood.

“Everyone knows that a corporation is not a person. How could unlimited corporate money in politics benefit real human people? Rhode Islanders have a powerful desire for independence and we have overwhelming popular support for overturning Citizens United. It’s time to take a stand for common sense and democracy,” Handy said in a release.

According to the release, in 2012, the General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution calling on leaders in  Washington to reverse the effects of the Citizens United vs. FEC Supreme Court decision, which enshrined corporations as people and their spending of money in elections as protected free speech. Rhode Island is one of twelve states to take such action alongside at least another dozen who are contemplating similar non-binding legislative action. Meanwhile, hundreds of municipalities around the country have passed resolutions likewise calling for the reversal of Citizens United, including Providence. Rhode Island also enjoys leadership on this important issue at the federal level from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who has spearheaded the initiative to amend the U.S. Constitution.

An affiliate of the Move To Amend (MTA) coalition has sprung up to push RI to take the next logical step and amend its own Constitution. Representative Art Handy of Cranston (18) has introduced legislation on behalf of the new grassroots group that would put the question of whether to amend Rhode Island’s Constitution on next year’s ballot (H6051) for the people to decide.

MTA RI started an online petition in support of the bill on May 3rd that has already surpassed 500 signatures.

Abel Collins, who chairs the fledgling MTA RI affiliate and who ran a grassroots campaign for Congress in Rhode Island’s 2nd District with a prominent call for getting the money out of politics, said “Rhode Islanders know that corporate money is drowning out our voice in government, and we want an opportunity to reclaim our democracy. The general assembly should give us that chance by passing the bill.”

If the bill is passed and voters approve of the “We The People” amendment, Rhode Island lawmakers would once again have the ability to regulate corporate and other special interest spending in elections. “It’s a good first step in the fight to end the cronyism that results in policies like taxpayer funded bailouts, unwarranted subsidies, and massive no bid contracts,” continued Collins.

The ultimate fate of the RI amendment is hard to predict, as it might face a court challenge. If it is brought before the Supreme Court, MTA hopes that the justices will use the opportunity to reverse the mistake they made in Citizens United. If not, more fuel will be thrown on the fire and there will be more and louder calls for a national amendment.


Abel Collins May 09, 2013 at 11:15 AM
How great would it be to go to the polls on election day and be able to vote that a corporation is not a person?! We need to take back the power they've stolen from us. Sign the petition today: http://movetoamend.nationbuilder.com/amend_ri
Mike Stenhouse May 09, 2013 at 12:06 PM
What do you see as the difference between corporate spending and union spending? Is one a person, but another is not?
Bill Santagata May 09, 2013 at 12:52 PM
I'll be testifying against the bill tonight. A state constitutional amendment cannot overturn a federal court ruling. This would violate the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution. If we enact this amendment it will only be struck down the following day. I am deeply in favor of reversing the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, but this can only be done by amending the federal constitution. A federal constitutional amendment can either be proposed by 2/3 of both houses of Congress (Congress' ignored Rhode Island's plea last year to propose such an amendment) or by 2/3 of the state legislatures in calling for a Constitutional Convention. It is this latter method that I will be suggesting. It is the only realistic way of getting this done. For more information, go to www.wolf-pac.com.
Bill Santagata May 09, 2013 at 12:57 PM
The Citizens United decision allows for unlimited political spending by corporations and unions. This hurts everyone, liberals, moderates, and conservatives. When politicians must rely on corporations or unions to fund their political campaigns, they become beholden to those moneyed interests, no longer to the people they serve. Furthermore, these donations can be completely anonymous.
Jack Baillargeron May 09, 2013 at 01:52 PM
Waste of taxpayers money and time on this issue. Just political grandstanding to try and influence the SCOTUS to take it up again which they probably will after seeing the repercussions. Let the system work. How about this for a thought, get the damn State off the bottom of the list as worse State to do business in rather than working on yet another way to tee off businesses. Let the Courts take the heat, all this does is make the State look even more anti-business and the list does not go any lower than we are all ready at. Geesh
Bill Santagata May 09, 2013 at 01:55 PM
It is doubtful that SCOTUS will bother to re-consider the issue. They have already re-considered the Citizens United decision, in a case called American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock, and re-affirmed Citizens United by the same 5-4 majority. Contact Rep. Edith Ajello and ask her to amend her bill so that it is an Article V petition for a Constitutional Convention on the matter. That is the only productive way to attempt to reverse Citizens United. rep-ajello@rilin.state.ri.us (401) 274-7078
Jack Baillargeron May 09, 2013 at 02:16 PM
That is not true Bill and you need to get your facts straight. The Scotus has already agreed to revist it and it is on the docket for nest session. This was done in february of this year. So this is a waste of taxpayer time and money. McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission (Reuters) - Three years after easing limits on corporate political donations in the Citizens United decision, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Tuesday to consider whether to lift caps on how much individuals may contribute to candidates. In a brief order, the court agreed to hear McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, a challenge by Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee to limits on aggregate donations over a two-year period. Tue Feb 19, 2013 4:12pm EST http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/19/us-usa-court-contributions-idUSBRE91I0QI20130219
Jack Baillargeron May 09, 2013 at 02:17 PM
PS if they rule on this as expected it would nullify Citizens united according to the all the articles I have read on it.
Jack Baillargeron May 09, 2013 at 02:31 PM
To futher expand on this Bill, The case you quote was actually not the kind that allowed the SCOTUS since it was on the Constitution of Montana as it related to donation that had been inforce forever there due to corruption of the State. The State supreme court ruling is what it was about and SCOTUS recinded it with this caveat by Chief Justice Stevens. Were the matter up to me, I would vote to grant the petition for certiorari in order to reconsider Citizens United or, at least, its application in this case. But given the Court's per curiam disposition, I do not see a significant possibility of reconsideration. Consequently, I vote instead to deny the petition. Obviously Stevens State ment of "per curiam disposition" has changed evidently since they are taking it up.
Bill Santagata May 09, 2013 at 03:01 PM
I am aware of the McCutcheon case and it deals with the constitutionality of limiting the amount of money *individuals,* not corporations/unions, can spend in political campaigns. Going by their past precedent, I am afraid that they are going to rule that individuals do have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited sums of money on political campaigns. The "money as speech" paradigm has been repeatedly affirmed by the same 5-4 majority, notably in Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett. There is no indication that the 5-member majority is suddenly going to reverse course. The Montana case was a decision by the Supreme Court of Montana that entirely flouted the holding of Citizens United. Decisions of the courts of last instance at the state level that implicate a federal question can be appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The USSC took this appeal and summarily reversed the holding of the Montana Supreme Court (5-4) as being in conflict with the Citizens United Decision. The Chief Justice of the United States is John Roberts. The lower court in the McCutcheon case ruled in favor of the FEC (such spending limits are constitutional), and the Supreme Court likely agreed to hear the appeal so that it can reverse it.
Bill Santagata May 09, 2013 at 03:04 PM
Furthermore, Justice Breyer wrote the dissenting opinion you are quoting (Justice Stevens is retired) and it is not a "caveat" to anything. It is a minority opinion dissenting to the per curium decision of the 5-member majority. It has no legal effect.
Jack Baillargeron May 09, 2013 at 03:13 PM
Yes but are not corperation considered individual now? See the road that creates, which allows them to revistit. I suspect the outcome will set new rules on that obviously. If a corp is a person and you limit that right on persons then you limit it on corporation as you cannot have it both ways. That to me is how the court will get itself out of the mess it created with "Citizen United" and I believe that is what they were waiting for a case they could use for that and this is it. Montana case could not effect citizens united as Stated in the brief. In any case they hear this case next month so any bill like this should waity until the case is adjudicated or heard at the very least before wasting time on this. I also believe there is no way you will get 34 States required to change the US Constitution. Now do it in a timely manner to get those 34 States to vote on it. It take years and sometimes decades for that to happen with an issue like this that many of the average Americans have not even heard of make that possibility next to nill in my opinion. Hense the waste of time being spent on this in a State that has much more pressing problems then campaign financing, corruption, fraud waste, abuse, and laws and taxes are killing this State and yet all we see are comissions formed to look at it and money spent like drunken sailors, on things that accomplish nothing at all to solve the problems. Shamefull.
Bill Santagata May 09, 2013 at 03:20 PM
But the Supreme Court is not really "revisiting" Citizens United in the McCutcheon case, rather, they are setting themselves up for another chance to re-affirm the principles of Citizens United. The lower court in McCutcheon ruled that the government can limit how much money individuals can spend in political campaigns. If corporations have the 1st Amendment right to spend unlimited sums of money in political campaigns, then it only stands to reason that individuals do too. This is why the Supreme Court likely took the case: so they can overturn the lower court's decision and rule that spending limits on individuals are also unconstitutional. It would take 34 states to call the convention and actually 38 to ratify the amendment. Amending the federal constitution is not easy. But it is the only way to reverse Citizens United (unless there is a change of power on the Supreme Court and they overturn their own precedent). The amendment being proposed tonight is just a nonsense protest amendment that can't really do anything. If the General Assembly wants to make the statement that they oppose Citizens United, they should do it in the form of an Article V petition. This would make the same statement and at least bring us one tiny step closer to realizing that goal. It also won't drag our state into a federal lawsuit.
Jack Baillargeron May 09, 2013 at 03:22 PM
Would add that the whole reason Citizens Untited is a mess is because it provided a slippery slope and made enforcement of current laws on influence pedaling and buying election, out in the open bribery etc almost impossible to prove now. This takes away the rights of the average voter to control our Representative Republic in my opinion anyway. That is why I am against "Citizens United" and do not think it is a free Speech issue which also can be regulated and is if it can create harm which to me this clearly does to the citizen voter. Corporation do note vote! Will be interesting to see this play out. Guess we will see who is right and who is wrong between you me and Handy anyway lol.
Joe Richer May 09, 2013 at 03:45 PM
I am okay with either formulae: 1) Corporationa and unions ARE people 2) Corporations and unions are NOT people. Treating the two differently would be the biggest problem.
Jack Baillargeron May 09, 2013 at 05:59 PM
Unions are different in my opinion, since the members cannot determine where their money is spent. Don't know how you solve that one unless you let the member ship vote and then devide the money by the outcome. I.E. 60% for one canidate or party and 30% for another and 10% for another. At least that takes into account the minority rights of members. Anything else is wrong in my opinion, without a vote it is tyranny of the leadership same as card check is if ever granted.
Jack Baillargeron May 09, 2013 at 06:00 PM
Oh Corporation should also be determined the same way by stock holders if they have any.
Jonathan Frieman May 10, 2013 at 12:38 AM
Mike, it's not a question of personhood--it's a question of power. All the largest unions put together have merely a smidgen of the financial power of one large corporation. And the author is wrong when he wrote that Romney was right about corporations being people. They are not--they are persons. That's a huge and vital distinction.
Robert E May 10, 2013 at 01:43 AM
Waste of time the state can not overide the Suprime Court and amendment to the RI Constutition would be unconstutitional under Citizens United. The SCOUS has already said corparations can spend unlimited money so the state can not say they can't. Only an amendment to the US Constutition can do that.
Joe Richer May 10, 2013 at 01:04 PM
That would also be fine with me. I just don't want a situation where either unions or corporations can flood the elections with focused money. So long as there is some kind of balance, we should be okay.


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