Boulder City Councilman Macon Cowles
Boulder City Councilman Macon Cowles
Proposed 'corporate personhood' resolution

RESOLVED, the People of the City of Boulder, Colorado call for reclaiming democracy from the corrupting effects of undue corporate influence by amending the United States Constitution to establish that:

1. Only human beings, not corporations, are entitled to constitutional rights, and

2. Money is not speech, and therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech.

Giving Boulder residents the chance to vote on whether they support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution opposing "corporate personhood" could cost as much as $20,000, according to a memo from City Manager Jane Brautigam to the City Council.

Councilman Macon Cowles and local activists who hope the measure will be one step of many on the way toward undoing the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision said that's a small price to pay to push back against corporate power.

The Boulder City Council will discuss Tuesday whether to put a resolution in support of the proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot. Activists will rally in front of the municipal building at 4:15 p.m. in support of placing the issue before local voters, then speak in front of the council during the public comment period.

The Citizens United decision last year removed limits on corporate and union spending on issue ads. The majority opinion in the 5-4 decision was based in part on the idea that corporations, legally, are people with the same First Amendment rights as individuals, and that money is a form of speech.

The national group called Move to Amend is trying to pass a constitutional amendment saying that corporations are not people and money is not speech.

Berkeley, Calif., and Madison, Wis., as well as Dane County, where Madison is located, have passed local resolutions supporting the amendment.

Cowles said local resolutions send a measure to state and federal lawmakers that their constituents support a constitutional amendment.

"The idea of challenging this balance of power that has tipped so far in favor of corporations, which can amass wealth and influence far beyond what the individual can, is very worthwhile," he said.

In memo to City Council members, Brautigam said the resolution would not have any social or economic impact on Boulder, but placing the measure on the ballot would cost between $15,000 and $20,000 because "a limited amount of staff resources would need to be re-directed from other work to prepare this measure."

The final cost, Brautigam wrote, would depend, in part, on the total number of issues that end up on the November ballot.

The city has received many calls in favor of the measure -- and none opposed, the memo said.

Boulder spokeswoman Sarah Huntley said the city manager's office doesn't have an opinion on whether the matter should go to voters.

"This is a discussion that has been initiated by a council member and a decision that would be made at that level," she said.

Carolyn Bninski of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center said putting the resolution before the voters would be money well spent. She pointed to corporate influence in legislation, including financial and health care reform falling short of what many activists on the left had hoped to see.

"The issue is who is in charge? Is it the people and their legislatures or is it corporations?" she said.

Judy Lubow, a member of Move to Amend and co-chair of the local Democratic Party's grassroots action team, said corporate influence contributes to gridlock in Washington, D.C.

"Politicians have to care more about the people who give them money than about the needs of ordinary people," she said. "With the kind of money that's being spent on corrupting our campaign process, the kind of money being spent on national campaigns, to spend $15,000 to give people a voice to say we don't like this is definitely worthwhile."

Bninski said the Boulder resolution would be "the first step in a long process" of building support for a constitutional amendment.

While the resolution's initial support is limited to traditionally liberal strongholds such as Berkeley and Boulder, Cowles said good ideas have to start somewhere.

"We've never shirked from being a leader on any other subject," he said. "We shouldn't do it now."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Erica Meltzer at 303-473-1355 or meltzere@dailycamera.com.