How Do We Get Money Out of Politics?
Rabbi Lerner’s editorial in this issue of Tikkun provoked disagreement among some of the members of our editorial board, so we decided to invite a founder of the Move to Amend movement, David Cobb, and some others to participate with Rabbi Lerner in a roundtable discussion of his perspective. A transcription of the discussion—edited for space and clarity—appears below. We invite you to join this debate as well: please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Cobb: We all agree, and Tikkun readers agree, that the problem is not corporate power. The problem is that we are being ruled by a small minority that has created a racist, sexist, class-oppressive political, social, and economic institution that is destroying the planet that we depend upon for life itself. The solution must engage a true mass movement for participatory democracy. Move to Amend—the coalition that I’m involved with—seeks to abolish all corporate constitutional rights and abolish the legal doctrine that money equals speech. It’s the best opportunity to launch, build, and nurture that mass movement. Move to Amend has engaged almost a quarter of a million people; several thousand organizations have endorsed and are participating in it, and we have a hundred and twenty local affiliates of people on the ground doing work, day in and day out, on this.
Peter Gabel: I participated in writing the Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment (ESRA). I think it’s a great document because it articulates a vision of the role of corporations that requires them to have social responsibility and allows the community to evaluate how well they live up to that requirement. It’s a radical difference from the current idea that corporations are purely self-interested and money-oriented, profit-making entities. The ESRA takes seriously everyone’s environmental responsibility. It mandates required educational courses in schools for young people to learn about the environmental crisis.
I agree with the critique that Michael made in his editorial—that the movement to overturn Citizens United is not going that deep. But there are aspects of the current movement to amend effort that I think need to be framed the way that the current amendment that David was talking about is framed. Move to Amend has captured the absurdity of the Citizens United decision and has galvanized a mass response on the part of this belief in a significant number of people—the absurdity of claiming that corporations are people and that money is a form of speech.
In response to that absurd Supreme Court decision, a movement has emerged that is helping people overcome their passivity and engage actively in politics to challenge the key aspects of the status quo. This overcoming of passivity has energized large numbers of people around the issue of corporate personhood—it’s a mobilization that creates the possibility of building a movement that we should strongly support. Michael’s editorial is too critical of that movement, when what is needed is strong support for it, while recognizing its limitations.
The Scalia-driven Supreme Court has gained an inordinate amount of social power in recent years, and it is making a relatively successful effort to legitimize the entire conservative movement as representing the ideals of, and meaning of, what “we the people” want. They’ve done this with the Citizens United decision by defining corporate spending on elections as an expression of freedom of speech; they’ve done it in limiting environmental regulations. And finally in the year 2000 they created the basis for themselves to be able to decide law and the president for eight years, which has profoundly impacted our country.
The Move to Amend movement, which would overturn Citizens United, is a mobilization to reclaim who “we the people” are and to reject the Supreme Court’s way of interpreting who we are to each other. What the Move to Amend movement should make a part of its discourse is that this is only the beginning of an effort to transform the role of corporations in American culture and to require them to become socially responsible entities that do not act solely for profit, but for the building of a better society.
Changing Law, Changing Consciousness
Harriet Fraad: We can create all the regulations that we want to, but within a corrupt, for-money system, everything will be tarnished and corrupted no matter what you regulate. I think part of the despair and inactivity of American people is that they know as long as the people in power continue to hold onto that power, no matter what you regulate, they’ll find a way out. We see this in the efforts of the right wing to undo the regulations of the New Deal, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Women’s Liberation Movement.
Cobb, David, H. Fraad, M. Lerner, and A. Starr. 2013. How Do We Get Money Out of Politics? Tikkun 28(1): 13.