Cleveland Heights declares corporations are not people

By Robert Nozar, Northeast Ohio Media Group 
on January 24, 2014

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — Red lapel pins were the jewelry choice of the night as about half of 40 residents in attendance at a special public hearing Thursday in Cleveland Heights City Hall wore buttons proclaiming “Amend It Now.”

The meeting was a requirement of the vote last November in which more than 75 percent of Cleveland Heights voters gave their OK to an initiative that asks elected representatives in Washington and eventually Columbus to push for a constitutional amendment that overturns a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling saying that corporations have the same rights as human beings and the use of money in political campaigns constitutes free speech.

Those attending sans buttons wore their figurative emotions on their sleeves Together the group took turns taking jabs at corporations — mostly banks, pharmaceutical companies and others whose corporate policies are perceived to hurt poorer people and enhance the lifestyles of the wealthy. The council chambers were full despite slippery roads brought on by a persistent snowstorm that lasted the entire afternoon and into the evening.

Even members of Cleveland Heights City Council did not escape unscathed. Cummings Road resident Garry Kanter took to task Councilman Jason Stein because nearly half the money he raised in his most recent campaign ($5,500 of $11,373) came from two sources, both of which are in Beachwood and related to a corporation called Safeguard.

Mayor Dennis Wilcox eventually cut off Kanter, one of only two residents who exceeded the five-minute speaking time limit, and Stein made no comments in response. There were about 20 residents who spoke.

Greg Coleridge, who has been a leader of the effort that eventually got the issue on the November 2013 ballot, told council the rights granted by the nation’s founders –specifically free speech, but other rights too — were intended only “for us, human beings,” not corporations

David Berenson, a resident of Silsby Road, said discussion such as the one held Wednesday night should take place more than once a year.

“There is way too much corporate influence,” Berenson said. “It’s insane to consider corporations people.

He reserved much of his attack for the gun industry and said there are “way too many guns” available, particularly in inner cities and for poorer people.

Berenson said the strength of health care insurers, because of their political contributions, makes them comfortable denying claims “even though they should be” covered.

“Concern for profits is ruining people’s lives,” Berenson said.

Only one speaker took a somewhat contrary stance.

Dick Secor, of Rumson Road, cautioned against any attempt to make all corporations “evil.” He also said he has a personal concern about amending the U.S. Constitution.

“I do not want to do away with corporations, unions and the like, but I want my small contributions to political campaigns to count for something. I want my voice to get across to the people.”

He closed by saying money should not be equated to free speech.

Some expressed high hopes that a constitutional amendment, if eventually passed, would cause limits for corporations in addition to what they could spend on political campaigns. Some of those expectations are not necessarily apparent in the issue that was passed by voters.

Carla Rautenberg, of Berkshire Road, said it will make it possible for local communities to limit the number of chain stores and the types of stores that come into a community.
“It will give us the right to override zoning laws,” Rautenberg said. “We’ll be able to limit money spent of campaigns and limit election seasons. We can revoke corporate charters by initiative.

“Constitutional rights are for people. Democracy is not something we have, it is something we do.”

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