Towns To Vote On Corporate Personhood

02/03/12 7:34AM By Kirk Carapezza
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AP/Toby Talbot
People hold signs during a rally in support of a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment that says corporations are not people in Montpelier.

(Host) Town Meeting Day in Vermont is about a month away now, and many cities and towns are putting the hot-button national issue of corporate personhood on their local agenda.

By petition, residents across the state have requested that an article be placed on ballots asking voters whether they support rescinding the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.

VPR's Kirk Carapezza reports.

(Carapezza) The 2009 decision reversed several precedents, and it made it legal for corporations or unions or individuals to spend unlimited amounts of cash to influence political campaigns.

Comedian Steven Colbert on his show The Colbert Report has joked about how that decision has led to skyrocketing campaign spending.

(Colbert) "It is estimated that Barack Obama will have to raise $1 billion dollars for his campaign. That means that between now and Election Day he has to collect $21 dollars per second. That is why his campaign slogan has gone from ‘Change' to ‘Benjamins.'" 

(Carapezza) Colbert went as far as to form his own super PAC. But civil rights activists in Vermont say it's not so funny. They argue the 2009 decision effectively gives corporations rights that are intended for people.

(Boardman) "The Citizens United decision was appalling the moment it was made."

(Carapezza) That's William Boardman of Woodstock. Ahead of Town Meeting, Boardman and his friends decided they'd circulate petitions to try to get enough signatures to get the corporate personhood question on Woodstock's warning.  

(Boardman) "And we were probably about half way there and the Select Board adopted it so we didn't have to complete the petition process!"

(Carapezza) It was a 3-to-1 vote in Woodstock, with one select board member abstaining.

Now, from Woodstock to Montpelier, the corporate personhood question will ask Vermont voters whether they think local government should urge Congress to propose a constitutional amendment that says "money is not speech," and that "corporations are not persons."

Even though the corporate personhood resolution isn't town related, Boardman says it'll give voters a chance to express how they feel about whether the democratic process should be limited to human beings.

(Boardman) "It's not a complicated question. The Supreme Court says corporations are people. These are transparently false assertions in any reality that any of us are familiar with. We live in a very surreal legal situation and this is an attempt to return the country to a more human scale."

(Carapezza) Organizers say on Town Meeting Day more than two dozen towns will take up the question of corporate personhood, including Bolton, Crafstsbury, Fayston, Hinesburg, Waitsfield and Warren.

And they say in another two dozen towns citizens plan to raise the question from the floor of their town hall.

For VPR News, I'm Kirk Carapezza.

Earlier: Burlington Councilors Want Corporate Personhood On Ballot

Vermont Edition: Ben & Jerry Target "Corporate Personhood"

Senator Bernie Sanders' office is building a map that shows what states and towns across the country are doing to overturn the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. Add your town.

View Efforts to Overturn Citizens United in a larger map


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