When the Occupy protests began in September in New York City, the grassroots movement against corporate greed and rising income inequality seemed poised to become a liberal equivalent to the Tea Party. Critics noted the movement’s lack of central leadership, organization and a legitimate political agenda. Months after spreading from Wall Street to cities and college campuses worldwide, the mostly peaceful protests have fallen from the media spotlight. As 2012 begins, Occupy supporters are still looking for tangible results. But the movement may be able to turn to Congress for action, as a Constitutional amendment has been proposed to limit the influence of corporations. Congress should pass the proposed amendments introduced in the spirit of Occupy and work toward limiting corporations’ political influence.
In homage to too-long acronyms, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) introduced the Outlawing Corporate Cash Undermining the Public Interest in our Elections and Democracy Amendment on Nov. 18. The amendment is one of several proposals aiming to reverse the Supreme Court’s opinion in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which ruled that the First Amendment protects political donations by corporations as a form of free speech. The Citizens United decision forbade the government from limiting political donations by corporations.
Though American democracy is far from ideal, a shortage of corporate dollars is not part of the problem. Despite former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s August statement that “corporations are people,” U.S. citizenship should not be diluted to include for-profit corporations. Corporations are set up within the bounds of written law and should be regulated as such.
Businesspeople can and should promote their business interests by donating to campaigns and political action committees. Allowing corporations unlimited campaign spending, however, enhances businesses’ ability to influence political campaigns. Corporations should not be able to use profits to support or oppose candidates or legislative initiatives.
The OCCUPIED Amendment states that “the rights of natural persons … do not extend to for-profit corporations.” The amendment would disallow the unlimited corporate spending that has flooded elections since the landmark Citizens decision in January 2010. Corporations’ political influence should be subject to government regulation, and this amendment reaffirms that.
Regulation guaranteeing that donors and candidates maintain transparency in campaign expenditures is vital. Non-stop election cycles have created a never-ending need for campaign contributions, which can lead to clientelism that harms true representative democracy. The amendment, along with similar legislation introduced in the Senate, is an important step toward returning the control of government to living, breathing citizens instead of resource-rich corporations.
National, city and campus officials have spent significant energy containing the Occupy movement’s momentum. Police pepper-spraying peaceful protesters on the University of California-Davis campus displays these efforts at their worst. Occupy’s message that the widening income gap is harmful to democracy has started important conversations worldwide. It has direct implications for students — President Barack Obama widening federal student loan forgiveness is one of the few tangible results of the movement. The OCCUPIED Amendment should move forward through Congress, and dialogue about negative implications of income inequality and corporate influence should continue.