By Anthony Bowe
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
The U.S. Supreme Court created a monster in January when it ruled that corporations and labor unions could spend unlimited money on political campaigns, according to Colorado Move to Amend and MoveOn.org.
The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission instantly changed decades of campaign finance laws causing states to rewrite campaign finance and disclosure rules. In May the Colorado Legislature passed Senate Bill 203, which forces a corporation or labor union to register as an independent expenditure committee if it spends more than $1,000.
Activists with Colorado Move to Amend and MoveOn.org joined forces on the west steps of the State Capitol last Thursday to present a skit mocking the decision.
Michael Melio, who earlier this year founded the Colorado chapter of Move to Amend, played the role of a journalist interviewing MegaConglomo, the three-headed corporate monster — a ghostly figure standing over six feet tall dressed in a black and white suit, large black boots made from wood and fabric, and two papier-mâché heads flanking a Halloween mask of actor Tor Johnson. Daniel Lowenstein, a theater props expert, constructed MegaConglomo and also voiced the monster.
The script sarcastically protested decisions by the Supreme Court that have led to giving rights to corporations that should be reserved only for citizens, Melio said.
“The important thing to remember about corporations is they can be bought, they can be sold. And how does property obtain rights? Well, only through the back door of the Supreme Court — that’s the only way it was ever possible and they did,” he said.
The 20-minute skit consisted of dialogue between Melio, a reporter for the fictitious Fifth Estate publication, and the mischievous MegaConglomo. Melio summed up rights awarded to corporations through Supreme Court rulings over the past 50 years including commercial free speech, the fifth amendment right to not be tried twice for the same offense, the right to a jury trial in a civil case, the right against unwarranted searches, and now the right to participate in campaigns with unlimited funds.
Melio asked MegaConglomo while reading his lines from a clip board, “Are there any rights that you are missing?”
MegaConglomo bellowed in response, “We don’t have the right to vote, but who cares. It’s not worth anything anyway.”
To which Melio responded, “That’s not true. Voting chooses who is to be in the Congress and who is president. They make the laws.”
“Who told you that?” MegaConglomo deadpanned. “You humans will believe anything.”
While the skit was designed to gain awareness through comedy, the reality is that corporate power represents one of the “biggest threats to our democracy since the Civil War,” said Ken Connell, volunteer coordinator for MoveOn.org’s Denver metro chapter.
“Corporations have been created and then with 100 years of legal definitions, they have more power than people, human breathing people,” Connell said. “It’s offensive at one level that corporations, which are not human, have protections that even exceed humans in some cases, in some settings. It’s a huge threat to democracy, and it’s a huge threat, I think, to the nation’s states.”
In August, Connell and several volunteers organized outside the office of U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette to urge her to sign a pledge to fight corporate and lobbyists’ influence in elections and overturn the Citizens United decision. DeGette has since written a letter in support of the pledge, Connell said. Reps. Jared Polis, D-CD 2, John Salazar, D-CD 3, Betsy Markey, D-CD 4, and Democratic candidate in CD 6, John Flerlage, have also signed the pledge.
Colorado Move to Amend and MoveOn.org both plan to join a coalition of organizations petitioning to place an amendment on next year’s ballot. The measure would advocate for publicly financed elections for candidates who choose to resist PAC money, as Andrew Romanoff did in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate this year.
The skit attracted 20 to 30 supporters and activists. Melio promised larger turnouts as volunteers perfect the performance, which at times saw Melio and Lowenstein struggle through their lines.
“This is the first time we’ve done this. It’s entertaining and a great way to get the message across,” he said.
The end of the skit saw MegaConglomo meeting its death when the people in the crowd were encouraged to revoke its charter, which was taped to its torso. Activist Joel Leventhal jumped on stage and tore the charter shreds and MegaConglomo was taken away on a canvas stretcher that read “We the People,” while Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up,” blared through the speakers.
Leventhal, who plunged into activism immediately following the Citizens United decision, said there’s a series of federal bills that, if passed by the U.S. Senate, could possibly neutralize the effects of the Citizens United decision.
“The short-term solution is to get the Senate to pass the DISCLOSE Act, which has already been passed in the House, so that we know where the money comes from (in elections),” he said. “Medium term is to get the Fair Elections Now Act passed, which again has already been passed in the House. And long term is some sort of constitutional amendment.”
The skit will play next Oct. 20, Melio said, but the location has yet to be determined.