A grassroots group that started in Haines is pushing for Alaska's political leaders and candidates to sign a pledge declaring only individual human beings, and not artificial entities such as corporations and unions, have rights.
The We the People Alaska coalition says constitutional rights belong to people and while corporations and unions may be granted privileges, that's not the same thing.
The group says big corporations that spend on lobbying and political campaigns are too powerful, and the project aims to lay a foundation for restricting that influence.
The coalition is launching its effort Monday in 11 communities: Juneau, Anchorage, Kenai, Mat-Su, Fairbanks, Ketchikan, Haines, Sitka, Gustavus, Homer and Nome.
"It's really about influence," said Gershon Cohen, who last year backed a successful ballot initiative in Haines taking a stand against "corporate personhood." "It's about going to Juneau and having a hard time figuring out who are the legislators and who are the lobbyists."
Similar efforts are under way around the country, he said. The groups are trying in part to address the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case. The court ruled in a split 5-4 decision that corporations, unions and other entities had a free speech right to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns as long as they didn't work directly with a candidate.
If enough members of the next Legislature signed the pledge, it would ease the way for a new law that defines "person" as "an individual human being," Cohen said. That could establish a legal basis for eventual restrictions on lobbying or campaign spending by corporations and unions on the theory spending is a privilege, not a right "and privileges can be amended," he said.
The group also is trying to raise the nation's consciousness in the hopes the Supreme Court will take on the issue again and overturn its 2010 decision, Cohen said.
A group of well-known Alaskans has endorsed the effort: Arliss Sturgulewski, a former state senator and two-time GOP candidate for governor, Rod Arno, long-time head of the Alaska Outdoor Council, Vic Fischer, a former senator and delegate to the state constitutional convention, Ray Metcalfe, a former state legislator and oil industry watchdog, former Senate President Chancy Croft, Malcolm and Cindy Roberts, both former aides to the late Gov. Wally Hickel, and retired Anchorage District Court Judge James Wanamaker.
The group intends to post information about who has signed the pledge on its Internet site, wethepeoplealaska.org. Organizers say they will be asking candidates for the Legislature, Congress and the governor's office.
Several key state legislators, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Coghill and his House counterpart, Wes Keller, didn't immediately respond to a request to comment on the new push.
Candidates are being asked to agree to "pledge to support the true intent of the Alaska Constitution, whereby inalienable rights are to be enjoyed solely by individual human beings, and I will support the amendment of existing Alaska laws to clarify that the term 'person' means only an individual human being."
Reach Lisa Demer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4390.
By LISA DEMER