DAVID ROSMAN: Do we need an amendment to fix campaign funding?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:24 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 26, 2012

U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio. The name either sends shivers down your back or … I can't think of a good "or" here. Give me a sec ... no, nothing.

Proposed constitutional amendment. I am of a mind that all new amendments, at least to the state Constitution, should be voted down. Federal? That depends.

"Corporations are people, my friend," Mitt Romney said Aug. 11.

Add these together and what do you get? Kucinich's H.J.RES.100: "An amendment to the Constitution of the United States regarding the use of public funds to pay for campaigns for election to Federal office." It is designed to take the corporation out of campaign funding.

This is a good example of R. Buckminster Fuller's "synergy," where the sum of the total is greater than the sum of its parts. Well, kinda.

Unlike the assessment of what HJR 100 will do, I do not believe this will end the controversy of defining "personhood" as only Homo sapiens under the laws of this nation.

I do think that Bill Moyers had it right when he told Stephen Colbert, "As a friend of mine in Texas says, he will believe that corporations are people when Texas executes one." So will I. Or just put one in jail.

When you add into the equation the super political action committees, the discussion of this proposed constitutional amendment explodes with that "made for TV" ideal of "The News" realism.

On Jan. 20, NPR’s Morning Edition asked if Kucinich’s proposal would actually and finally advance clear rules as to the obscene amounts of money corporations and the wealthiest one-tenth of 1 percent can stuff into a super PAC? Simple answer — no.

For irony, NPR quoted the Institute for Justice's Steve Simpson. He said, "People banding together in groups and exercising their right to free speech, to protest a court decision that held that people should be able to band together in groups and exercise their right to free speech — that's a little bit ironic."

Reviewing Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and other Supreme Court cases involving the First and Fourteenth amendments and corporations as people, it is clear that the court has held that corporations do have equal protection as  "a person" under the First and Fourteenth amendments. Although they all concern election financing, these opinions are mostly based on the U.S. tax codes.

So what does Kucinich’s proposed amendment do? Two things:

1. "All campaigns for President and Members of the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate shall be financed entirely with public funds. No contributions shall be permitted to any candidate for Federal office from any other source, including the candidate."

2. "No expenditures shall be permitted in support of any candidate for Federal office, or in opposition to any candidate for Federal office, from any other source, including the candidate. Nothing in this Section shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press."

So where does this proposal say that corporations are not people?

It does and would require Congress, already stuck in a quagmire of terminal disagreement, to come up with rules of distribution (more regulation) and to give, hopefully a commission made up of extraterrestrials who would have absolutely no interest in how we kill ourselves, the rules and powers to distribute campaign funds. 

This is contrary to at least a half-dozen proposed changes to current statute that would "reduce Federal spending and the deficit by terminating taxpayer financing of presidential election campaigns and party conventions."

Observation: If Congress really does tackle the idea of "personhood” concerning the First and Fourteenth amendments and close the gargantuan loophole in the campaign finance laws, it must also tackle our convoluted and overly confusing tax codes.

Opinion: Will never happen.

So how does this affect you, the average Columbian, Missourian and U.S. citizen?

First, as shareholders of a corporation, either directly, though your IRA or corporate retirement plan or via a mutual fund, wouldn't you like to know if that corporation was influencing an election through unlimited and unregulated funding?

Second, as a shareholder, wouldn't you rather see the billions of dollars given to the super PACs to influence federal and statewide elections used for a better purpose? Like, maybe, creating more jobs? Increasing employee pay and benefits? Modernizing factories?

Just saying.

David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics.

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Michael Williams January 25, 2012 | 10:21 a.m.

Dave, you concentrate on corporations and say nothing about unions.


(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote January 25, 2012 | 11:23 a.m.

@Mr. Rosman,
The return on a corporation's campaign contributions are enormous. See here for examples:
Self-interested shareholders wanting to maximize returns to reinvest in the company's work-force should be clamoring for more corrupting influence, not less. I would also note that most shareholders are not so egalitarian. A more equitable distribution of corporate profits to the hoi polloi would probably upset them, if it negatively affected the share price. Note that wall street undervalues Costco stocks because worker compensation is deemed excessive.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz January 25, 2012 | 1:38 p.m.

Corporations are not permitted to influence "an election through unlimited and unregulated funding" There are still some contributions which cannot be accepted or made and reporting of all contributions was not affected by that evil Citizens United decision. You know, the one where a group of people opposed to Hillary Clinton's campaign wanted to advertise their movie arguing against her campaign run, but were unable to due to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

(Report Comment)
frank christian January 25, 2012 | 5:13 p.m.

Contrary to the traditional liberal rhetoric, the animal known as humanus honesteletedofficialus in not extinct. And, they know it.

Each of their efforts such "getting rid of the "obscene" amounts of money spent in our Federal elections" are more steered toward assuring the incumbency of their preferred crooks than making any election honest (They gave us ACORN).

The comment, "wouldn't you like to know if that corporation was influencing an election through unlimited and unregulated funding?", would be laughable, unless of course the writer believes that we all know that collected union dues go unabashedly to influence the election of Democrats in every election the bosses deem it necessary to influence.

SCOTUS corrected flawed legislation introduced by a progressive and a liberal of our Senate. This turmoil is the attempt to regain control over the involved money.

(Report Comment)
David Rosman January 27, 2012 | 11:43 a.m.

I received the following from another reader, Wendy, and would like to share it with you.

Hi Dave! I'm a Missourian reader and liked your article today (1/26/12) about using our power as shareholders (one dollar = one vote!) to influence corporations' decisions. The corrupting influence of corporate money on federal and state elections is a problem that needs addressing, yet every solution I've read about has unintended consequences that aren't good. (I thought this Salon article was particularly informative.)

How can we, as ordinary, overwhelmed Americans, find out how to use our power as corporate shareholders? (Occupy Proxies!) I just googled "shareholders rights" and, to put it mildly, oy vey!!! Maybe the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau could help? Maybe Dan Viets could help? (I don't know him.)

Thank you for the kind words, Wendy.

It is my understanding (I taught National Association of Securities Dealers professional development programs for a few years) that if you own one share of corporate stock, you have the same rights, though not voting power, as one who owns 1,000,000 shares. This means you can go to the annual meetings and make your voice heard during the public discussions.

The three best site seemed to be:
• SEC Gives Shareholders Rights Activists a Win With New Proxy ...
Aug 26, 2010 ...
• Shareholder Rights - Corporations
Shareholder Rights.
• Shareholder's Rights Law

What is as important is the power of the pen. I started as a columnist because I actively wrote to news outlets (I started almost 20-years ago in Denver). Over the years, I had a running average of 80 percent of my letters published by the papers. In Columbia it was 100%, so I approached both papers to see if I could convert that into a regular column. Though I am not paid for my weekly contribution, I am performing a public duty by “starting the conversation.” Your note is a perfect case in point.

It is my belief that too many people feel helpless because their specific cause is not the leading cause, is not being taken seriously, or not the winning issues during the elections. I teach that a single voice can and does make a difference.

To really fix the “corporations are people” problem is much bigger than most understand. It is a combination of tax laws, legal decisions, and other factors that give the incorporated company (not sole proprietorships) their special place. As a legal entity, they are treated as a “person” in the eyes of the court. This protects the owners and shareholders to some extent from law suits and other legal action.

Buy one-share and say something.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 27, 2012 | 12:46 p.m.

For the fun of it, I changed one portion of Wendy's letter; changes are in brackets:

"The corrupting influence of [union, non-profits, and liberal PAC} money on federal and state elections is a problem that needs addressing,...."

Dave, when you start being all-inclusive about the sources of political money, I'll take your pleas more seriously. Currently, all I read from you is a one-sided, unstated agenda which I consider a non-serious fix. All you are doing is spouting one side of the problem...which is what you accuse the other side of doing. No sale.

(Report Comment)
frank christian January 27, 2012 | 2:16 p.m.

Ditto, Michael Williams!

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 27, 2012 | 2:38 p.m.

Frank: By his failure to bemoan ALL group sources of political money (not individuals), I conclude that Dave favors the prohibition of money from one group, but not another. It is of interest, and worthy to note, that his prohibitions extend only to groups he does not support. He asks for unilateral disarmament, but not from his group. How rude.

As a result, I simply cannot take his words/fixes seriously.

Once he starts discussing ALL sources of group money, I'll start paying attention. Until

(Report Comment)

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