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Transcript:

February 5, 2010

BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal. It's been two weeks since the Supreme Court's ruling in the Citizens United case. That's the decision stating that when it comes to directly influencing our elections, corporations can spread their cash as freely as they wish.

In truth, it's not as if they haven't already been throwing their financial weight around. Hundreds of millions are poured into lobbying, political action committees and thinly veiled issue ads promoting or attacking candidates. Now the biggest concern is how corporations might use their newly-acquired power to unleash wave after wave of ads for or against any politician right up until Election Day.

Some members of Congress are not waiting to find out. They're scrambling for ways to counter the Supreme Court decision, especially its core assumptions that money is speech and that corporations have the same rights as people when it comes to spending it.

This week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi named a task force of House Democrats to fight back against the court decision and determine what they can do, if anything, legislatively. And Democrats in the House and Senate began hearings.

SEN. TOM UDALL (D-NM): We've seen firsthand the impacts special interests like big oil and big banks and health insurance companies have had on the legislative process. Now with this decision, already-powerful corporations and unions will be able to further open their bank accounts, further drowning out the voices of everyday Americans in the political process.

REP. ARTUR DAVIS (D-AL): I can't imagine a greater threat to independent decision making by this body than corporations implicitly or explicitly being able to say, if you don't follow my line, I'll single-handedly put enough resources into this contest to defeat you.

BILL MOYERS: But Republicans who for the most part were pleased with court's decision took issue with the Democrats' dire warnings.

SEN. BOB BENNETT (R-UT): He who has the most money does not always win. Indeed, many times he who has the most money spends it stupidly and ends up helping the other side. Just because someone has the right to speak does not mean that he or she will speak intelligently or effectively.

REP. GREGG HARPER (R-MS): It is obvious that many individuals, especially on the Democratic side, disagree with the Supreme Court's decision. But all of these points lead in one direction, toward the government deciding who can speak, who can't speak, and how much they can speak. That is exactly the position our Founders rejected when crafting the first amendment. And it is exactly the position the Supreme Court rejected in Citizens United.

BILL MOYERS: The impact of the Supreme Court's decision goes well beyond Congress and federal elections. Effectively tossed aside are laws in 24 states that either restrict or ban outright corporate spending in state and local elections. So lawmakers at statehouses across the country are rushing to find alternatives. Last week, in Annapolis, Maryland, a group of legislators proposed a package of reforms...

STATE DEL. SANDY ROSENBERG (D): What's at stake here is the integrity of the democratic process. The public is already justifiably very upset about how we go about doing our business. The influence of money in special interest, this opens the flood gates, the Supreme Court decision.

STATE SEN. MIKE LENETT (D): You know, the last time I checked my copy of the Constitution, it begins, "We the people." "We the people," not "We the corporations."

STATE SEN. JIM ROSAPEPE (D): The reality is the only people who can take advantage of the Supreme Court decision are big businesses. The neighborhood grocery can't, the neighborhood gas station can't, the neighborhood doctor can't. This is about big, out of state, and in many cases, foreign companies that could come in here and try to buy our election process.

BILL MOYERS: One of those Maryland Legislators is Senator Jamie Raskin ... who's also a professor of constitutional law. He's using that knowledge to help lawmakers figure out a way to respond to the Supreme Court and, as he says, contain the damage.

STATE SEN. JAMIE RASKIN (D): When the Supreme Court made its decision there was lots of public outrage, but then you started to hear from some people who are saying, "Well, don't corporations already run everything anyway?" and obviously corporations have a lot of influence but under the Citizens United case, it has opened the floodgates to hundreds of millions or billions of dollars of corporate money flowing into our politics, that's a game changer.

BILL MOYERS: What's at stake, says Raskin, are laws that protect the environment, public health, worker safety, and economic justice.

STATE SEN. JAMIE RASKIN (D): We see this line-up practically everyday between what I think is a pretty clear public interest on one side, and then a corporate special interest on the other side. The only question is, "Will we as legislators have the courage to stand up for the public interest?"

BILL MOYERS: But the potential enormity of the Supreme Court's decision and the corporate dollars it could unleash means that at the state and local level any effort to fight back with legislative proposals will have little effect. Senator Raskin believes the only real solution is to change the United States Constitution itself.

STATE SEN. JAMIE RASKIN (D): The Supreme Court has opened up a Pandora's box here and we have to do whatever we can at the state level to try to contain the damage. But ultimately, I hope that we really would move to a constitutional amendment. Just like we got a constitutional amendment to give us direct election of U.S. Senators when the corporations were bribing state legislators to send their chosen few to Washington, I think now we have to stand up and say we're not going let these justices and corporations roll all over us. The democracy belongs to the "We the people" and this is our opportunity to clarify that in the Constitution of the United States.

BILL MOYERS: It's a sentiment shared by some in Congress.

REP. DONNA EDWARDS (D-MD): A law won't fix this. We have to fix it in the constitution. So today I will introduce a constitutional amendment so that we, the people, can take back our elections and our democracy. This is not "The People's House Incorporated." We are the people. It's our house, it's our constitution, and it's our elections. And we intend to take it back from the United States Supreme Court.

BILL MOYERS: A constitutional amendment would overrule the Supreme Court and clearly spell out that free speech is a right of the people, not corporations. Getting there is hard. An amendment requires the approval of two-thirds of Congress and three-quarters of all the states. But proponents say there's enough anger smoldering across the country to ignite a grassroots movement, change the constitution and overturn the court's decision. Already underway is MovetoAmend.org. More than 55 thousand people have signed its petition calling for a constitutional amendment. Another reform effort at FreeSpeechforPeople.org has more than 35 thousand signatures. And organizers there have put together this video.

MALE 1: Do you think corporations are people?

MALE 2: No.

MALE 3: No.

FEMALE 1: No.

FEMALE 2: No.

FEMALE 3: Absolutely not.

FEMALE 4: It's a different animal.

MALE 4: They're not people. They don't have the same rights as people.

BILL MOYERS: The video ends with this plea from State Senator Raskin and Congresswoman Donna Edwards.

STATE SEN. JAMIE RASKIN (D): The Supreme Court has had its say. Now it's our turn.

REP. DONNA EDWARDS (D-MD): To take matters into our own hands, to enact a constitutional amendment that once and for all declares that we the people govern our elections and our campaigns, not we the corporation.

STATE SEN. JAMIE RASKIN (D): Now is the time for us to put in motion a great popular movement to amend the constitution to defend democracy against the champions of corporate plutocracy.
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