Ben Cohen: Defacing Money and the First Amendment

By Kevin Joseph Ryan

On Saturday, June 9th, Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s fame stood on Burlington’s Church Street with a small booth, attempting to get passersby to get their dollar bills stamped with slogans such as “Not to be used for bribing politicians.” Cohen is attempting to increase awareness of the Move to Amend movement, which seeks to overturn the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court. This decision mandated that Congress could not create law which prohibits groups from creating or issuing political messages, regardless if money is spent in doing so.

Proposed constitutional amendments have been introduced in both Houses of Congress, where Congressman Peter Welch and Senator Bernie Sanders have respectively sponsored amendments which would hold that only natural persons, and not corporations nor associations, would have any rights under the United States Constitution, including rights to free speech, free association or even due process. Senator Leahy has publicly endorsed this change.

This past year, 67 Vermont towns passed resolutions at town meetings to overturn the Citizens United Decision, prompting the Vermont Legislature to pass J.R.S. 11, a joint resolution supporting such a change. The Legislature was only able to do so after the resolution was modified, as State Senator Peter Gailbraith (D- Windsor) noted, “What happens to my book publisher, or my church? Do they not have any rights after this? Can the government simply raid them without warrants?” The Vermont resolution advocates that the Constitution be amended to overturn Citizens United without abridging any “…Constitutional rights of any person or organization…” Clearly an impossibility.

In addition to promoting the Amendment, Cohen also sought to promote an event called the National Occupy Gathering in Philadelphia later this month. Cohen has described himself as a financial supporter of the Occupy Movement, which in fact largely rejected his funding efforts in March, proposed as part of the Movement Resource Group. OWS Press Team member Jeff Smith noted that Cohen was simply one of a long line of wealthy donors trying to plug into Occupy. Attempts to discover what groups are behind the National Occupy Gathering website proved fruitless, as the owner of the site was hidden anonymously behind web hosting provider DreamHost.

Ben Cohen, promoting the Amendment proposal by stamping dollar bills, claims doing so is legal, and that his lawyer has said so. However, Title 18, Section 333 of the Federal Code, states that “Whoever mutilates, cuts, disfigures, perforates, unites or cements together, or does any other thing to any bank bill…” is guilty of a Federal offense. Could the ice cream king be put on ice by the Secret Service?


One thought on “Ben Cohen: Defacing Money and the First Amendment

  1. I find it incredibly ironic that Mr. Cohen is using his own money to advocate a political message, a point I tried to address with him at his booth.

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