Money is not free speech

Jeff vonKaenel

Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream fame has discovered an incredibly effective speech-making technique. He demonstrated it at a recent alternative-newspaper-publishers convention in Burlington, Vermont. Setting down a gigantic bag filled with Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Jerry began his remarks by saying that the ice cream would take about 10 minutes to soften up.

Anticipating free ice cream, the room of publishers softened up much sooner. It is amazing how much more insightful and interesting a speech is that concludes with ice cream. Unfortunately, Jerry’s message was not so sweet.

When asked to explain Ben & Jerry’s tremendous success when there are so many great ice-cream makers across the country, Jerry suggested it was the anti-corporate, pro-social-movement position of Ben & Jerry’s that really separated it from its competitors. That led to great growth and the need to take the company public by selling shares in the company.

Once the company went public, Jerry said they had a responsibility to maximize shareholder value. So when an offer to buy the company came in, Jerry said they legally had to sell.

So, sadly, they lost their company. Perhaps happily for them, however, they also became rich. According to Jerry, he and his boyhood friend and business partner Ben Cohen are now employed without responsibility and without authority. This gives them a tremendous amount of time and freedom to work on whatever they chose.

Although he was scheduled to speak to the publishers, Ben could not make the convention, because he was out of town working with Move to Amend, supporting a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United.

Even though our Founding Fathers conducted a revolution to free our country from royalty and landed gentry, a few hundred years later, the Supreme Court decided to turn over the country to the corporate royalty. The average person gets one vote, but the rich can spend as much money as they want to buy the election.

I do not get it. And neither does Ben Cohen.

Move to Amend supports a constitutional amendment encouraging us to stamp a message on dollar bills. In addition to giving me some great ice cream, Jerry gave me two stamps: “Not to be used for bribing politicians” and “The system isn’t broken, it’s fixed.” Ben plans to travel across the country with a soon-to-be-created gigantic money-stamping machine, encouraging people to stamp their money. It’s a fun idea to bring attention to a national problem.

Ben and Move to Amend are asking citizens and cities to sign a petition stating, “We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, and move to amend our Constitution to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.”

That idea is delicious—as was the Blueberry Vanilla Graham Greek Frozen Yogurt.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.