Views on the OCCUPY Amendment

This is a guest op-ed by Greg Colvin, a partner at the firm Adler & Colvin, originally published at

As the struggle in the streets intensifies, and Occupy Wall Street refuses to remain silent, it's good to know there are champions in Congress who have stepped up to the challenge of amending the US Constitution. It's called OCCUPIED: Outlawing Corporate Cash Undermining the Public Interest in our Elections and Democracy, here.

The Supreme Court, in the 5-4 Citizens United decision of January 2010, declared that corporations have free speech rights like human beings and invalidated the ban on corporate election spending that Congress had enacted. Since then, a grassroots movement has emerged to generate popular support for a constitutional amendment to reverse that decision, including months of work by Move to Amend, Free Speech For People, Public Citizen, People For The American Way, Common Cause, and the Center for Media and Democracy.

Rep. Deutch's amendment is a blend of the best ideas.

  1. The rights protected by the Constitution belong to human beings (natural persons).
  2. Constitutional rights do not extend to for-profit corporations or other business entities, nor do they extend to chambers of commerce that promote business interests.
  3. The constitutional rights of other non-profit corporations, such as charities, churches, schools, hospitals, clubs, unions, and environmental groups remain in place.
  4. Immediately upon adoption, this amendment would prohibit business corporations and their associations from using money or other resources to influence voting on candidates or ballot measures anywhere in America—at the federal, state, and local levels.
  5. Counteracting the 2010 Citizens United case and the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo case, Congress and the states would once again have the authority to regulate and set limits on all election contributions and expenditures, by any group or person.
  6. This would empower Congress and the states to control election spending by CEOs and other wealthy individuals, including those rich enough to pay for their own campaigns.

Comparing the OCCUPIED amendment to some of the others proposed:

Unlike the amendment offered by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts), the Deutch amendment does more than remove constitutional rights from corporations, LLCs, and other corporate entities. It reaches all forms of business enterprise, but without the unintended consequence of stripping constitutional rights from unions and nonprofit public interest corporations, such as the Sierra Club, NAACP, Planned Parenthood, and your local community center. The McGovern amendment would not automatically prohibit corporate election spending and would not enable Congress and the states to set limits on election spending by the wealthy. The Deutch amendment does both.

Unlike the companion amendments introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) in the Senate and Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio) in the House, the Deutch amendment goes beyond simply authorizing Congress and the states to regulate campaign financing. It removes the shield of constitutional rights from business corporations and their associations, and imposes an immediate, nationwide ban on corporate election spending.

Unlike the ideas floated by TV commentator Dylan Ratigan and Professor Larry Lessig, the Deutch amendment would not use the Constitution to prevent citizens from donating to the candidates of their choice, or to chisel a dollar limit on individual donations into constitutional stone. Wisely, the Deutch amendment protects and does not diminish individual rights, and leaves the matter of setting contribution and expenditure limits to the people through the federal, state, and local legislative processes.

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Maryland) and a number of co-sponsors in the House bravely introduced the first attempt at drafting an amendment in Congress some months back. Hopefully, she and her colleagues will recognize that the spirit in the streets and around kitchen tables and the level of legal craftsmanship have progressed to the point where a stronger amendment like Rep. Deutch's deserves their support.

Personally, I proposed a simple amendment in January 2011, that would limit campaign financing to the donations of individual citizens only. I still think that's a good idea, but I have to recognize the value of combining everyone's best thinking into a comprehensive reform amendment. Rep. Deutch has done that with OCCUPIED. Let's join him.


The author listed as "PRwatch Editors" is for reports attributable to CMD's editors or guest authors.


The whole tenor of this guest op-ed by Greg Colvin (posted on November 21, 2011), which I agree with, is, peculiarly, very different from his guest op-ed on November 16, 2011, which I don't much agree with. Are you sure they were written by the same person?

Yep, I wrote them both. I am still concerned about the efficacy and consequences of an amendment focused solely on removing corporate constitutional rights, but Rep. Deutch addressed some of my concerns by aiming only at for-profit business interests, and using language that goes beyond the corporate legal form. At this point, I am equally in favor of the Deutch OCCUPIED amendment and the original one I posted at in January 2011, which would allow only individual citizens to finance campaigns, but with Congress and the states authorized to use public financing also and to set limits on contributions by wealthy donors, require transparency, etc.

#3. invalidates this proposal. "The constitutional rights of other non-profit corporations, such as charities, churches, schools, hospitals, clubs, unions, and environmental groups remain in place." Either all "entities" or none. An individual is single. No group should be given privilege or all should. Seems intended to fail.

When I can merge with, or split from, wholly or partially, as many people as I want; and I can live forever; and I can pay no taxes; and I can commit murder but not be put to death for it; I STILL wouldn't call businesses "people".

Regarding campaign financing another option would be to only allow donations by corporations, companies, businesses, organizations (profit or non profit) or individuals that are residents or in the case of corporations, companies, businesses, organizations (profit or non profit) have their national HQ in that state(in the case of Senators or district (in the case of Congressmen) The idea being to keep all funding for campaigns local to the state and individual districts. So if Koch brothers or George Soros for that matter are not residents in my Congressional district they can't donate to my Congressman's campaign fund likewise they can't donate to my Senator's campaign fund. Likewise this would keep any national organizations (Super PACs) from being able to donate to a campaign unless they're actual nationally headquartered in that district and state. Donations should be capped as far as a dollar value is concerned. We can argue about the dollar amount, but personally I'd make it fairly small. 1k max for individuals 3K max for the corporations, companies, businesses, organizations (profit or non profit) All transactions should be able to be reviewed publicly and a full financial disclosure by the corporations, companies, businesses, organizations (profit or non profit) or individuals should be made available so the public knows where the money is coming from. In other words if someone sets up a national HQ for a organzations in my district and starts funneling money through it to a candidate. I have a right to know where and from whom they're getting the money and where those corporations, companies, businesses, organizations (profit or non profit) or individuals are getting there's To put it mildly I have the right to crawl up there ass with a microscope to find out where the money is coming from. Our Senators, Congressmen, State and local representatives even our President are PUBLIC SERVANTS no more no less. Its about damn time they learned that and we started treating them as such.

The problem is United States Senators and Congressman vote on bills that impact us all. I have on occasion been told by aides to national politicians that their office cannot speak with me because I do not live in their district or State. I have found threatening to propose your suggestion knocks down their objections.

Ask not where the Occupy movement should go. The OCCUPY amendment may save the Republic. From Canada ... god speed

Unconstitutional campaign laws are prior restraints on flesh and blood citizen’s rights to participate and create “State approved” “corporate” presses. Amendment 1 Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Only Congress can violate the 1st Amendment. Freedom of assembly, speech and press are the tools of political campaigns and existing campaign laws abridge all three. Following reports of serious financial abuses in the 1972 Presidential campaign, Congress amended the FECA in 1974 to set limits on contributions by individuals, political parties and PACs. But politicians exempted the commercial media and created a State approved press. 2 USC 431 (9) (B) (i) The term "expenditure" does not include any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication, unless such facilities are owned or controlled by any political party, political committee, or candidate; If the United States Supreme Court defined freedom of religion using the same logic that campaign laws use to define a free press only the church or synagogue "as an institution" would enjoy freedom of religion, not its parishioners! The NRA bought a radio station to get around existing campaign laws. But flesh and blood citizens who share views on candidates and issues should not have to buy a media outlet to enjoy their 1st Amendment rights of assembly, speech and press. People should be free to assemble their money and talents to make their voices heard and offset the voices of billionaires and corporations. We cannot rely on the commercial press to be unbiased and provide the information we need to remain free. Both Republicans and Democrats agree the press is biased and only differ on which networks and newspapers lack balance. A newspaper must at all times antagonize the selfish interests of that very class which furnishes the larger part of a newspaper's income... The press in this country is dominated by the wealthy few...that it cannot be depended upon to give the great mass of the people that correct information concerning political, economical and social subjects which it is necessary that the mass of people Shall have in order that they the best way to protect themselves from the brutal force and chicanery of the ruling and employing classes. (E.W. Scripps). To restore equal protection under law, the “press exemption”, 2 USC 431 (9) (B) (i), should be modified to read: “The term expenditure does not include any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed by any candidate, political party, citizen, citizens group, non-profit corporation, broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication.”

Since he is calling his amendment "The Occupied Amendment," I am curious to hear why Rep Deutch voted in favor of HR 347 - the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011, also known as the “Trespassing Bill,” which essentially criminalizes free speech and is obviously aimed at the Occupy movement?