Burlington Town Meeting voted to approve having the town come out against the idea that corporations are entitled to the same Constitutional rights as people.
Article 22, put forward by Town Meeting member Sally Willard, Precinct 4, asked members to support a Constitutional amendment to "stipulate that corporations are not people and do not enjoy the First Amendment rights of people."
The article is a rebuttal of the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In that case the court held that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting political independent expenditures by corporations, associations, or labor unions. The decision is credited with paving the way for Political Action Committees (PACs) and Super PACs that allow corporations, groups and wealthy individuals to spend as much money as they like in support of political candidates or for attack ads against candidates.
In part, the warrant article stated:
"Now therefore let is be resolved that we the citizens of Burlington, Massachusetts, petition the U.S. Congress to pass and send to the states an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would affirm that corporations are not entitled to the constitutional rights of human beings, and that Congress, and state and local governments may place limits on political contributions and expenditures from any source."
During Town Meeting Willard said the influence of money from big special interests is erroding the democratic process.
"Special interest spending to sway the outcome of state and local elections and referendums and that drowns local voices and ideas and impact the results," she said.
There was little debate over the sentiment of the article. Most Town Meeting members who spoke were in favor of the idea that corporations do not have the same rights as people. There were some questions as to why the issue was before Town Meeting rather than presented to voters as a ballot initiative.
Willard said the issue could be put on the next ballot but that she thought as the legislative branch of the town it was in Town Meeting's purview to support the measure.
Finally, one Town Meeting member asked what the next step would be for this measure to move forward and make an actual impact on U.S. law.
"It’s a long process," she said. "The hope is that it will spread community to community until there is enough pressure on congress to take up the cause. As we know congress is bogged down in their stuff. A lot of members get there and stay there because of corporate spending. They will stay until there is enough of a groundswell."
What do you think? Do you agree with the vote to approve this article? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.