All across Vermont, citizens are putting the issue of corporate personhood and money-in-politics on the agenda for Town Meeting on March 6.
In some communities, such as Burlington and Woodstock, the local governing body has adopted a town meeting warning article by request. In another two dozen or more towns, citizens have gathered the necessary signatures to put the question before the town meeting.
On a similar track, the Vermont Legislature is considering a resolution offered by state senator Virginia Lyons of Chittenden County that frames the issue succinctly: “The profits and institutional survival of large corporations are often in direct conflict with the essential needs and rights of human beings.”
The local questions for town meeting address this conflict by inviting voters to endorse the propositions that “corporations are not people” and “money is not speech.”
These propositions might have seemed self-evident until two years ago, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case Citizen’s United v. Federal Election Commission. The 5-4 decision reversed several precedents and made it legal for corporations or individuals to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence political campaigns.
The dissent written by Justice John Paul Stevens expressed the same sentiment currently motivating Vermonters: “Corporations have no conscience, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. 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.”
Vermonters from Brattleboro to Burlington, from Bennington to Greensboro will have the opportunity at town meeting to vote to agree or disagree with Justice Stevens. National polls show large majorities agreeing with the Justice.
Among the other towns voting on the question will be Bolton, Calais, Charlotte, Craftsbury, Fayston, Gainsville, Hinesburg, Marlboro, Marshfield, Monkton, Montgomery, Montpelier, Moretown, Norwich, Richmond, Ripton, Rutland City, Rutland Town, Shrewsbury, Waitsfield, Warren, Williamstown, Williston, and Woodstock.