Rush to limit direct democracy

Letter to the Editor
Akron Beacon Journal
March 22, 2013

Why was Senate Bill 47 fast-tracked through the Ohio legislature? Under the guise of “fairness” and “uniformity,” the bill would reduce the number of days citizens could collect signatures during initiative and referendum campaigns. This reduces direct democracy.

A simple alternative to eliminating the ability of citizens to collect signatures during the period when their initial signatures are being validated, which may take varied amounts of days, is simply to set a uniform number of days at a high end for signatures to be verified. Problem solved.

The larger question is why S.B. 47 proponents believe the current rules regarding petitions require such immediate and urgent attention.

Where are their fast-track proposals addressing the enormous and growing unfairness and inequality of access to our public officials by the very wealthy and corporations?
It’s clear that the current political system in Ohio and nation isn’t broken but fixed — rigged to benefit the very wealthy and corporate interests.

Whether massive political campaign contributions by a wealthy few and cash-flush corporations, lobbyists representing these same special interests with unlimited access to policymakers or appointed corporate agents overseeing agencies charged with regulating the very corporations these agents come from, the political system is truly rigged against people without money having their voices heard and their communities helped.

Where is the legislative urgency to address this growing crisis of democracy and, relatively speaking, infinitely greater problem of political fairness and access?
Instead, S.B. 47 seeks to weaken the few remaining democratic avenues citizens possess.

Greg Coleridge

More Than About Fracking – About Corporate Rights

The March 20 court decision in Pennsylvania, Hallowich v. Range Resources, ordering documents unsealed in a case involving contaminated water from fracking was much more than simply about health or the environment. 

It was about whether corporations possess constitutional rights. 

Common Please Court Judge Debbie O’Dell-Seneca stated in her ruling that Range Resources Corporation and other natural gas drilling corporations failed to make the case that unsealing records would cause harm to their trade secrets or reputation.

Stephanie and Chris Hallowich, whose water was polluted and who suffered physical harm when gas was released into the air, brought the suit against Range Resources Corporation, the first natural gas driller and one of the most active in the Pennsylvania. Unsealed records were also requested by the media and health groups.

In her decision, O’Dell focused on the core issue — do corporations have privacy “rights,” a main pillar in the argument of the defense. 

O’Dell said under the Pennsylvania Constitution (the case was heard in a county court), they do not. 

She said: “There are no men or women defendants in the instant case; they are various business entities. … These are all legal fictions, existing not by natural birth by operations of state statutes. … Such business entities cannot have been ‘born equally free and independent,’ because they were not born at all.”

This thinking is consistent with the views of Ohio courts over many decades —  before the bizarre notion that corporations possess inalienable constitutional rights became embedded in federal court decisions. 

As Ohio courts affirmed, corporations do not possess rights. Only people can grant corporations powers, privileges and protections. 

Here are a few examples. 

Corporations have such powers, and such only, as the act creating them confers; and are confined to the exercise of those expressly granted, and such incidental powers as are necessary for the purpose of carrying into effect powers specfically conferred. In no state of the Union have these principles been adhered to with more unyielding tenacity than in this.
Elias Straus and Brother v. The Eagle Insurance Company of Cincinnait, 5 OS 60 (1855)

Corporate existence, and the right to exercise the power of eminent domain, can only be derived from legislative enactment.
Atkinson v. Marietta & C.R. Co., 15 OS 21 (1864)

In granting corporate franchises, a state has reserved to itself the right to enact police laws necessary to secure the lives and property of its citizens. These corporations owe their existence and the right to exercise their franchises and privileges to the principle that the state may employ such agencies as it may deem proper to promote the public welfare.
Lake Shore & M.S.R. Co. v. Cincinnati, S. & C.R. Co., 30 OS 604 (1876)

The corporation has received vitality from the state; it continues during its existence to be the creature of the state; must live subservient to its laws, and has such powers and franchises as those laws have bestowed upon it, and none others. As the state was not bound to create it in the first place, it is not bound to maintain it, after having done so, if it violates the laws or public policy of the state, or misuses its franchises to oppress the citizens thereof.
The State ex rel. v. The C.N.O. & T.P. Ry. Co., The State ex rel. v. The C.W. & B. Ry. Co., 47 OS 130 (1890)

The only absolutely essential attribute of a corporation is the capacity to exist and act within the powers granted, as a legal entity, apart from the individual or individuals who constitute its members.Andrews Bros. Co. v. Coke Co., 10 Ohio F. Dec. 306 (1898)

When a corporation asserts that it is clothed with a given power, the burden rests upoin it to show whence such power and rights are derived.

Mannington v. Hocking Valley Ry. Co., 183 F. 133 (1910)

At Least One Judge Understands Corporations are NOT People

Here’s one judge who understands the difference between human and corporate persons..

“There are no men or women defendants in the instant case; they are various business entities. … These are all legal fictions, existing not by natural birth by operations of state statutes. … Such business entities cannot have been ‘born equally free and independent,’ because they were not born at all.”


Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee, Ohio House of Representatives
March 19, 2013
Greg Coleridge, Director, Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee

The American Friends Service Committee educates, advocates and organizes for justice, peace and self-governance. We’re concerned not simply about creating justice and fairness on various issues but also about just and fair governing rules – that is, laws and constitutional decisions permitting We the People to have the power to decide what takes place in our communities, state and nation.

This is especially important given the current crisis of credibility of our political and economic systems. People increasingly believe our political institutions aren’t broken but fixed – as in rigged to benefit the very wealthy and corporations.

The ability of citizens to be heard by their public officials, to gain authentic access to political representatives and to have real political influence playing by the rules we’ve been led to believe exists in our representative democracy has never been weaker than today.

Whether massive political campaign contributions (or investments) by a wealthy few and cash-flush corporations, lobbyists representing these same special interests with unlimited access to policy makers, or corporate agents appointed to oversee agencies charged with regulating the very corporations these agents come from – the political system truly is rigged against people without money having their voices heard, their needs met, and their communities helped.

Citizen petitions for initiatives, referendums and recalls are examples of direct democracy. There’s no middleman or woman to interpret what people want or don’t want. Citizens can decide for themselves. These are sacred principles. Public officials who truly represent We the People should commit themselves to expanding, not contracting, these tools of direct democracy.

The goals of “fairness” and “uniformity” of petition campaigns by proponents of SB 47 are noble. How they are reflected in legislation is the issue.

The litmus test for evaluating any reform of these sacred direct democratic principles should be this: Does the proposal make it easier or harder for citizens to govern themselves? In other words, does it narrow or widen direct democracy?

As proposed in the current form, SB 47 would make it more difficult for citizens to petition their own government — especially for groups that don’t have paid staff and hundreds of thousands of dollars to spent and need every day they can get to gather signatures from their fellow citizens.

In the spirit of fairness and uniformity, I support the elimination of signature gathering during the verification period if and only if extra days are added, say 30 extra days to the current 90, to collect signatures to place a citizen referendum on the ballot. This would expand the direct power of citizens.

In the same spirit of fairness and uniformity, I also call on supporters of SB 47 to likewise, fast track legislation that addresses the enormous and growing unfairness and inequality of political access by the very wealthy and corporations to public officials. It’s clear that the current political system is rigged through political campaign contributions and lobbyists to benefit a few at the expense of the many here in Ohio.

Such additional legislation would serve as a powerful testament to your noble goals of fairness and uniformity not simply in citizen petitioning but also in public elections and governance.

Thank you.

Public Hearing on Reducing Citizens’ Right to Petition – Tuesday, March 19

Call your State Representative TODAY
[Find your District Rep. at]

A public hearing on SB 47 will be held tomorrow, Tuesday, March 19 before the Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee of the Ohio House of Representatives. The hearing will be at 2:00 pm in Room 115 in the State House building.

SB 47 would reduce the number of days citizens could gather signatures on petitions to place an issue on the Ohio ballot for voter consideration. SB 47 reduces our ability as citizens to petition our government to either create a new law (initiative) or reverse a law passed by the legislature (referendum).

The right of direct democracy that citizen initiatives, referendums and recalls (to remove an elected official from office) represent goes back to the 1912 Constitutional Convention in Ohio. These democratic tools were intended for citizens to bypass corrupt public officials captured by corporations and the wealthy few.

What was true in 1912 remains true in 2013. Corporations and the wealthy few still possess disproportionate influence over public officials and public policy via political campaign donations, lobbyists, and access to regulatory agencies compared to the vast majority of Ohio citizens.

SB 47 is being peddled as seeking “fairness” and “uniformity.” Details of the argument are contained in a recent Plain Dealer news article at

SB 47 is on a fast track for passage, despite lack of evidence that the current rules have been unfair. Reducing the days to collect signatures only makes it more difficult to collect the necessary signatures to qualify for the ballot. Citizen initiative or referendum campaigns are already enormously challenging undertakings. They can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and a huge time commitment.

Is our democracy better off by reducing the opportunity for citizens to collect signatures? Or is this simply yet another means to limit the ability of citizens at self-rule?

If lack of fairness and uniformity in elections and politics is of concern to proponents of SB 47, where are there fast track legislative proposals to reduce the political access and influence in our elections of corporations and the super wealthy?

Passage of SB47 is an assault of what’s left of direct democracy in Ohio.

Call your State Representative TODAY
[Find your District Rep. at]

Thank you.

Politicians Want to Reduce the Power of Citizens

Tell your Ohio House Member to Vote NO on SB 47

The 101-year old Constitutional right of citizens in Ohio to directly create laws (via citizen initiatives) and undue laws (via citizen referendums) is being threatened.
The Ohio General Assembly is considering a bill that would make it harder for citizens to petition our own government. The bill would shorten the amount of time citizen’s groups have to collect signatures to place a grassroots issue on the ballot for voters to decide…on any issue coming from any group for any reason.
Send a letter to your Ohio House member by going to
Tell your Ohio House Member to Vote NO on SB 47.
Is the problem in our state that we have TOO MUCH grassroots democracy? Or is it that we don’t need to rely as much on grassroots petitions because We the People without money have GREATER INFLUENCE THAN EVER BEFORE over public officials? 
Of course not.
So exactly what “problem” is this “solution” addressing?
At a time when…
  • Wealthy people and corporations have greater access to public officials,
  • Lobbyists virtually camp out in our public buildings,
  • The appearance, if not reality, exists that large political campaign contributors buys political influence, and
  • Average citizens without money increasingly feel their voices are not heard by those we elect,
…do we really need a law introduced by politicians to REDUCE the ability of citizens in any way to petition our own government?
Of course not.
Send a letter to your Ohio House member by going to
Tell your Ohio House Member to Vote NO on SB 47.
At some point, if the growing grassroots movement across Ohio calling on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to end corporate personhood and money as speech continues to spread, there will be a grassroots statewide initiative calling on Congress for the same. This effort will be move difficult if SB 47 passes. 
Please act now. Spread the word
Thank you. 
p.s. There are likely to be public hearings on SB 47 next week or soon thereafter. So contacting your state representative ASAP is very important

Petition to Revoke Corporate Charters

This letter was sent yesterday…

Ohio State Senator Mike Skindell
Ohio State Senator Shirley Smith
Ohio State Representative Bob Hagan
Ohio State Representative Mike Foley
Ohio State Representative Nickie Antonio
Ohio State Representative Zack Milkovich
Attached please find a petition being delivered today, March 6, to the office of Attorney General Mike DeWine. It calls on him to initiate charter revocation (called “quo warranto”) proceedings against the corporations owned by Ben Lupo.
You may know that Mr. Lupo, d/b/a one or more of as many as 20 corporate fronts, apparently instructed his employees to dump as much as 250,000 gallons of waste materials from unconventional horizontal hydraulic fracturing into the City of Youngstown’s storm sewer system, knowing or having reason to know that the system was connected ultimately and directly to the Mahoning River.
The attached petition calls on Attorney General DeWine to respond not with a fine or revocation of a permit, but a revocation of his corporate charter(s) — a common response used by our forebears in Ohio in response to corporations acting beyond their authority as defined in their corporate charters. Quo warranto proceedings were once used routinely  as a democratic tool by Ohio legislatures and courts to affirm the sovereign power of We the People over corporate, which are, after all, creations of government. 
The petition to Attorney General Mike DeWine is offered in the spirit of affirming that We the People and our elected representatives possess and should utilize this democratic tool to ensure that corporations are ultimately subordinate to us. It is also a legal means for elected officials and the courts to protect the health, safety and welfare of citizens. Please consider urging the AG to initiate such proceedings. 
Ohio Revised Code (Chapter 2733) describes quo warranto. It identifies the Ohio General Assembly as another state entity which can commence a quo warranto proceeding. This may be an option you may wish to consider if the Attorney General fails to fulfill his duty.
Thank you kindly for your consideration.
Greg Coleridge
Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee
[a Quaker social action organization]
Address: 2101 Front St., #111, Cuyahoga Falls, OH 44221
Phone: 330-928-2301
Fax: 330-928-2628

Here’s news coverage of it…

URGENT: Ohio Senate Vote TODAY on Limiting Citizens Initiative and Referendum

Our Constitutional Rights to “Do Democracy Directly” via citizen initiatives and referendums is under assault in Ohio. A vote is scheduled at 4:00 pm TODAY by the Ohio Senate Government Oversight Committee. Please don’t put it off. Please ACT RIGHT NOW. The link below allows you to quickly find and send an email to your State Senator.

If we ever reach the point of initiating a Move to Amend citizens initiative campaign in Ohio, we must protect these 101 year old rules empowering citizens the right to “Do Democracy Directly.”