By Matthew Reichbach
The state House of Representatives voted to ask Congress to send the states a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. The House voted 38-29 with all Democrats, one Republican and one independent voting for the proposal.
Referring to the millions of dollars of Super PAC campaign spending this year, Rep. Mimi Stewart (D-Albuquerque) said, “There are plenty of people in our districts and in our state that are not happy with the political process in general and this just adds fuel to the fire.”
The Citizens United decision is a controversial and unpopular decision. One effect of the Citizens United decision is in allowing corporations to make unlimited “independent” expenditures, much of it undisclosed, that aid or oppose political candidates.
These “Super PACs” have come to special prominence by spending millions of dollars in the current Republican presidential primary. This includes $10 million in donations from Sheldon and Miriam Adelson to a Super PAC that some say is “singlehandedly keeping Newt [Gingrich] alive” in the presidential race.
Stewart’s memorial, which would not change existing law but rather petitions the New Mexico congressional delegation, encountered opposition from a few Republicans during the floor debate that preceded final passage.
In an interesting note, Minority Leader Tom Taylor (R-Farmington) said he did not believe the memorial went far enough.
“You have the right to speak but you also have the responsibility to let people know who you are,” Taylor said. This may have been a reference to the greatly reduced donor disclosure that has been one of the results of the Citizens United decision, but it was not entirely clear. Taylor ultimately voted against the memorial.
He said that if Citizens United is overturned, corporations would just funnel their money into other entities to make their views known.
Rep. Dennis Kintigh (R-Roswell) reprised his role from the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee in opposing the memorial and questioned Stewart on the memorial.
Kintigh said he found the memorial “chilling” and said it was a case of free speech.
Rep. Moe Maestas (D-Albuquerque) disputed this, and said that corporations do not deserve the same rights as people.
“The Supreme Court got it wrong,” Maestas said. “Corporations are not people. They are not human beings.”
Stewart said, “Our Constitution starts out as ‘We the people’ not ‘we the corporations.’”
The notion that corporations are considered people is unpopular. In fact, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney was widely considered to have committed a gaffe when he told a Iowa State Fair goer, “Corporations are people, my friend.”
Rep. Brian Egolf said that he had no problems with corporations and, in fact, said his law firm is a corporation.
Egolf paraphrased a quote from Bill Moyers that is widely quoted by those who do not believe that corporate entities are people when he said, “I’ll really believe that corporations are people when the state of Texas decides to execute one.”
Passed House after failing last year
A similar memorial expressing opposition to Citizens United failed in the House in 2011 by a 33-34 vote. Like this year, three Representatives were absent for the vote.
Reps. Tomas Garcia (D-Ocate), Don Tripp (R-Socorro) and Andy Nuñez (I-Hatch) voted “no” in 2011 and switched over to vote for the memorial in 2012.
Reps. Bob Wooley (R-Roswell) and Paul Bandy (R-Aztec) missed the vote this year after voting against it in 2011.
Rep. David Chavez (R-Los Lunas) was absent for the votes in both years.
However, Wooley, Bandy and Chavez were all present for the floor debate on the memorial, prior to the vote being taken.
Odds and Ends
- Sen. Steve Fischmann (D-Las Cruces) has an identical memorial in the Senate. That memorial passed the Senate Rules Committee and now awaits a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
- Rep. Conrad James (R-Albuquerque) spoke of proposing an amendment that, in exchange for eliminating the right of corporations to expend unlimited money on campaigns, would exempt corporations from all income taxes. Stewart responded by listing a number of advantages afforded to corporations in the tax code – the most obvious one being limited liability, a privilege not granted to individuals.
- Rep. Cathrynn Brown (R-Carlsbad) made an interesting argument when she said that this would make rich individuals have a more speech than those less affluent. Brown said, “A billionaire could have a whole lot more free speech than anyone in this chamber.”
- Stephen Colbert’s Super PAC “Americans for a Better Tomorrow Tomorrow” raised over $1 million. The Fix blog at the Washington Post believes that this is helping educate the public about Super PACs.