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Testimony to Senate Government Operations re: Citizens United Resolution

Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility testimony to Senate Government Operations Committee
Daniel Barlow, Public Policy Manager
February 16, 2011

Thank you for the opportunity to testify on J.R.S. 11.  I represent Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, a statewide business organization that currently has over 1200 members across the state from a variety of business sectors.  Our members employ more than 36,000 Vermonters, representing approximately 13% of the state’s workforce. Our Board recently discussed J.R.S. 11 and I want to share the perspective of our business organization.

We often hear that, “Your vote is your voice.”

That’s how the United States and Vermont have operated for more than 200 years. Candidates run for office and we vote for them – and sometimes against them – in elections.

But that system was upended last year when the U.S. Supreme Court issued it’s ruling in the Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission case, stating that corporations are people and should have First Amendment rights.

That decision allows corporations, unions and other entities to spend unlimited amounts of money in elections. And this move was proclaimed to be “free speech” by supporters. The decision rejects common sense, ignores decades of other court decisions and threatens to drown out the voice of individuals all over the country.

Citizens United is not about free speech –before this decision, there was no law stopping any company CEO or executive from speaking out about a politician or political issue.

But what they couldn’t do – and what this decision now allows them to do –is to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns and advertisements aimed at influencing an election or policy decision.

What was the effect of this decision in last year’s midterm elections? According to a December 2010 analysis by Bill de Blasio, the public advocate for the city of New York, the result was that outside groups spent more than $130 million, including $65 million spent on 10 Senate races alone.

The sources of this money, under the new political landscape created by this court decision, are unknown. It’s all anonymous spending. Groups are still required to report what they spent on advertisements, but they are not required to report where these funds came from.

VBSR is a non-partisan business organization and this is a non-partisan issue. People of all political backgrounds can agree that the founders of this country intended for individuals to have Constitutional rights, not corporations.

The American people overwhelmingly reject the philosophical underpinnings of this decision. A Washington Post/ABC poll taken weeks after the decision last year showed that 8 in 10 people disagree that corporations are people. That showing includes 85% of Democrats, 76% of Republicans and 81% of independents.

In his Citizens United dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens said the “framers … had little trouble distinguishing corporations from human beings …”

“Corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires,” he wrote. “Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their ‘personhood’ often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

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