WESTPORT, Conn. — Westport’s League of Women Voters hosted a forum Wednesday aimed at taking money out of politics, with appearances by the leader of Democracy For America and the author of "Corporations Are Not People."
Constitutional lawyer and author Jeffrey Clements, a leader of the 28th Amendment movement, and Jim Dean, chairman of DFA, a 1.2 million member progressive organization, spoke about the importance of their efforts.
Westport’s League of Women Voters has begun circulating a petition asking registered voters to approve “Overturn(ing) the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.”
Citizens United is the Supreme Court decision that struck down the 2002 McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act in a 5-4 decision, ruling that money is free speech and limiting money is the same as limiting free speech, and that corporations are people and have the same right of free speech as people.
The forum flier said Citizens United “unleashed powerful corporate and individual money into our political process. … Our democracy is in danger as our nation moves toward an oligarchy dominated by a rich and powerful elite.”
The League’s petition is the first step in an effort to overturn the decision by passing the 28th Amendment, taking money out of politics and ending the idea that corporations are people with equal free speech rights.
On Wednesday evening, Clements and Dean were interviewed by Westport Board of Finance member John Hartwell. The meeting was hosted by Fairfield County DFA Chair Doug Sutherland.
Sutherland’s opener set the tone for the audience of 60 people: “In 2010, the Supreme Court tried to pretend that money does not corrupt. They continued to insist that money is speech and corporations are people.”
The decision opened up campaigns to what has become billions of dollars in contributions. Clements said that unlimited money facilitates the speech of the rich while shutting down that of others. He borrowed the analogy of democracy as a marketplace: If democracy is a marketplace, those with more money are able to buy more speech.
Thus, the decision goes against the Constitutional idea that all people are equal, he said.
One impact, Dean said, is that a growing number of people say the system is rigged and voters feel helpless. This, he added, is borne out by low voter turnouts.
Clements mentioned a contested Boston City Council election that saw a 13 percent turnout: “That’s how democracies die,” he said.
They said the best way to turn this around is to start working locally on 28th Amendment ballot initiatives. Such initiatives have already succeeded in 700 cities and towns — including Stamford in 2012 — and in 16 states.
LWV President Celeste Lacroix said its petition will gather signatures of registered Westport voters. They plan to seek RTM support in the fall, then turn to to U.S. Rep. Jim Himes and Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy to carry the initiative forward.
Clements said he is optimistic that local actions can build to congressional approval of the 28th Amendment by 2020.