Rally against corporate spending held at Capitol

CHARLESTON – A state Senate resolution calling on the federal government to end the practice of treating corporations as people with freedom of speech rights has been passed out of the Senate judiciary committee to be taken up for a vote by the full Senate.

Senate Resolution 24 calls for the state Senate’s support for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. This said corporations could spend unlimited sums of money in political elections.

Some have said this ruling gave companies “corporate personhood” where, under the law, corporations are like people, entitled to protections and benefits under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in the exercising of free speech.

Some believe there is a need to amend the U.S. Constitution to say that corporations are not entitled to personhood rights. Money is not equivalent to free speech so corporations should not be allowed to spend unlimited funds trying to influence elections, some people believe.

A rally was held at the state Capitol Monday for supporters of the measure. On March 28, the House of Delegates passed a similar resolution with bipartisan support.

Sen. David Nohe, R-Wood, a member of the Senate’s judicary committee, said he voted for the resolution, but still feels it only amounts to a statement.

Election laws in West Virginia prevent candidates from accepting direct contributions from corporations, while they can accept a donation of no more than $1,000 from a government action group that may have corporate backing, Nohe said.

”Right now, (this proposed amendment) does not pertain to us and has no real bearing on us,” Nohe said.

Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, said there were a lot of people at the Capitol Monday for the rally.

She has not read the resolution, but said labor unions are able to contribute money and support to political candidates. Corporations are made up similarly of people in a business setting. She would have to see how the resolution spells out its aims before deciding how she votes, Boley said.

She believes the resolution could be taken up on the Senate floor this week.

Nohe said there are other bills that should be worked on that could go toward job creation and other matters during the last week of the Legislature’s regular session. Although he understands people’s reasons behind supporting the resolution, it will not have a significant impact on the state, Nohe said.

”If I could get a resolution passed where money would not affect an election outcome, I would pass it,” he said. ”If I had my way, money would never control an election.”

If the Senate joins the House and passes the resolution, West Virginia will be the 12th Legislature nationwide calling for the constitutional amendment.