Question: What do the following realities have in common: protecting worker safety, outlawing loan sharking, preventing workplace discrimination, stopping pollution, controlling political corruption, ending fracking, regulating guns, raising the minimum wage, shutting down puppy mills, and even banning the use of plastic bags?
The answer is, of course, preemption. Preempting, usurping or, dare I say, trumping local laws passed by county or municipal councils, like Cleveland City Council, is becoming ever more rampant by state legislatures and federal courts.
What does this have to do with Move to Amend’s We the People Amendment? The Amendment calls for abolishing the twin bizarre constitutional doctrines that “money spent in elections is free speech” and “a corporation is a person.”
Money as speech has meant that the super rich and corporations that haven’t been successful at stopping the local laws mentioning above – passed by elected local public officials who take an oath to protect the health, safety and welfare – can shift their focus to the state level where they invest money in the form of lobbying or political campaign contributions to corrupt state legislatures to overrule local democracy. It’s legalized bribery to be sure – thanks to political money defined as free speech.
About 500 such preemption laws are moving through state legislatures across the country now – with practically no public notice.
Meanwhile, corporate constitutional rights have allowed corporations to hijack Constitutional Amendments to claim, for example, that 4th Amendment search and seizure rights, 5th Amendment due process and takings rights and 14th Amendment equal protection rights – originally intended to apply solely to human beings – apply to corporate entities. Thus, local laws calling for public inspections, targeting certain businesses or protecting the environment violate a corporation’s privacy, are discriminatory or unfair – and are thrown out in federal court.
Hundreds of such laws – with a focus of protecting workers, their workplaces and expanding economic justice over the past century – have been overturned on the grounds of violating corporate constitutional rights.
We can overturn the Citizen United Supreme Court decision and the constitutional doctrine of “money equals speech” tomorrow, but corporate preemption in the courts would still exist. That’s why we must abolish ALL corporate constitutional rights. That’s what the We the People Amendment accomplishes.
We must remember that corporations have no inherent constitutional rights. Corporate entities are creations of the state. They only exist because they receive a charter, or license, from the state to do business. The charter was intended as a democratic instrument – to ensure that a business promoted the common good when providing a good or service. The charter bestowed upon them only privileges, not rights. When a corporate entity failed in their mission or unilaterally acted beyond their charter, the charter was often revoked by either the state legislature or state supreme court – just as a license issued to an individual professional person is revoked with the individual unable to conduct business if they failed to uphold the terms of their license.
In a 1900 ruling to dissolve a dairy company, the Ohio Supreme Court said,
The time has not yet arrived when the created is greater than the creator, and it still remains the duty of the courts to perform their office in the enforcement of the laws, no matter how ingenious the pretexts for their violation may be, nor the power of the violators in the commercial world.
This is the mindset and actions of self-governing democratic people – not to ask, pray, plead or negotiate with their legal creations – but rather to define, to authorize, to instruct. That’s what the We the People Amendment will, in part, accomplish.
To achieve real democracy – for the very first time.
Greg Coleridge (he/him) National Co-Director, Move to Amend Coalition http://MoveToAmend.org firstname.lastname@example.org
CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — A jury’s guilty verdict against former Ohio Speaker of the House Larry Householder for receiving bribes to pass House Bill 6 to bail out two failing FirstEnergy Corp. nuclear power plants at a cost to ratepayers of more than $1 billion should result in significant jail time. The same goes for every other individual involved in the scandal.
This is also true for FirstEnergy, which admitted in its 2021 Deferred Prosecution Agreement with federal prosecutors to paying, including through then-subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions (FES), more than $59 million to Generation Now, the dark-money front group controlled by Householder. Those funds didn’t come out of the pockets of FirstEnergy executives. They came directly from the FirstEnergy and FES treasuries.
FirstEnergy’s agreement to pay a $230 million penalty as part of that 2021 agreement is nowhere close to proportionate accountability for the massive scale of its perversion and hijacking of our democratic system. It also does not prevent the state of Ohio from pursuing separate legal action against the company.
A corporation is a legal entity, publicly chartered or licensed, in most cases, at the state level. FirstEnergy Corp. is chartered in the state of Ohio.
Corporate charters, originally issued one at a time by state legislatures, identified specific conditions that had to be followed. Charters were similar to licenses issued to individuals who want to practice their profession – establishing specific rules and standards to ensure public safety and welfare.
When a corporation acted beyond their authority as defined in its charter, or illegally, its charter was revoked by the legislature or state Supreme Court and the company was dissolved. This is similar to a professional whose license is revoked for inappropriate or illegal acts.
The Ohio Supreme Court, for example, stated in a 1900 corporate charter revocation decision:
“The time has not yet arrived when the created is greater than the creator, and it still remains the duty of the courts to perform their office in the enforcement of the laws, no matter how ingenious the pretexts for their violation may be, nor the power of the violators in the commercial world.”
A Republican attorney general, David K. Watson sought to dissolve the Standard Oil Co. of Ohio franchise in the 19th century — the largest and most powerful company at that time. He asserted in his legal brief:
Current Ohio Attorney General David Yost has filed a civil suit against FirstEnergy under the Ohio Corrupt Practices Act. The weak suit doesn’t call for the revocation of FirstEnergy’s charter.
FirstEnergy’s charter, which states it will act legally, should be revoked for the corporation’s admission of its direct involvement in what was called “likely the largest bribery, money-laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio” by then-U.S. Attorney David M. DeVillers.
Issuing a fine or demanding that the company replace one or more directors or board members does nothing to affirm the original intent of charter issuance and revocation: That “We the People” have the power and authority to define and hold our legal creations accountable for their actions to ensure that the public is protected from corporate harms.
The lack of historical knowledge of corporate charter revocation, belief that holding accountable individual corporate “bad apples” is sufficient and the perception that charter revocation is too extreme are reasons why this democratic tool has not been explored in this case. Yet, revoking FirstEnergy’s charter is an appropriate and proportionate response to the scale of the company’s crime. It’s also how authentic self-governing people act to affirm real democracy against corporate rule.
The time has still not yet arrived when the created is greater than the creator.
Greg Coleridge of Ohio is national co-director of the Move to Amend Coalition that seeks to end corporate personhood via an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The Norfolk Southern Corporation train derailment and subsequent hazardous chemical release into the air, water and land in and beyond East Palestine, Ohio are the inevitable result of multiple anti-democratic realities in the U.S. Many are interconnected and are the same for the roughly 1000 train derailments per year, most recently in Michigan.
Private ownership of railroads
Norfolk Southern Corporation’s record earnings in 2022 led to huge salaries for its top managers and stock buybacks and dividend payouts benefiting speculators and investors. Necessary investments have not been made in technology upgrades and worker safety as the corporation prioritizes maximizing profits over public safety and sustainable business practices. “Since the North American private rail industry has shown itself incapable of doing the job, it is time for this invaluable transportation infrastructure – like the other transport modes – to be brought under public ownership,” concludes the Railroad Workers United. Interstate highways are publicly owned. Railroads were under federal control during WWI. Railroads in many other nations are publicly owned and, therefore, publicly accountable.
No community rights
Local public officials have few legal tools to protect the health, safety and welfare of their residents – especially conditions in any way related to interstate commerce. Communities possess little authority to control material – including trash, chemicals, nuclear waste – coming into or even passing through their jurisdictions by trains or trucks if that material can be defined as “commerce.” The Constitution’s Commerce Clause (Article I, Section 8) gives power to Congress and the President to “regulate commerce”among the several states.” While states have at least some ability under certain conditions to push back against “commercial material” in their states if they can redefine it as dangerous, localities have no rights. East Palestine officials weren’t even notified the derailed Norfolk Southern train was carrying vinyl chloride, ethylhexyl acrylate and other highly toxic chemicals since federal law doesn’t classify those chemicals as “high hazardous.”
Lack of worker power
Strikes are powerful tactics of workers to exert leverage against management. It’s different for railroad workers given the importance of railroads in the nation’s commerce. Unions representing rail workers have been virtually unable to strike since passage of the Railway Labor Act in 1926, which gives the government, specifically the President and Congress, vast powers to force workers to accept alternative means of resolving disputes – including mediation, arbitration and a Presidentially-appointed panel to make a recommendation. Without the legitimate threat to strike, rail workers, including those of Norfolk Southern, lack the power to press for ending dangerous working conditions.
Corporate campaign contributions
Railroad corporations are major political donors/investors to federal and state political races. The industry has poured $85 million into federal candidate campaigns, political parties and outside spending groups since 2002 with Republicans historically being the preferred recipients until recent years. Norfolk Southern – along with BNSF, Union Pacific Corp. and CSX Corp. – are the major industry contributors/investors. Norfolk Southern’s political investments have been $17 million since 1990. At the state level, Norfolk Southern has invested $98,000 into Ohio political races since 2018, with Gov. Mike DeWine (who at first didn’t call for federal assistance following the E. Palestine disaster since he didn’t see a problem) being the largest recipient. Another recipient, Rep. Bill Seitz, supports his home city of Cincinnati selling its publicly owned rail line to none other than Norfolk Southern. At the very least, political campaign contributions buy access to public officials; at worst, buys favors.
The railroad industry invested $24.6 million to employee 265 reported lobbyists to influence the federal government in 2022. Norfolk Southern’s portion was $1.8 million. The combination of corporate campaign contributions and lobbying by Norfolk Southern and other railroads results in legislation and regulations favorable to the industry, harmful to workers and threatening to communities. Rail lobbyists and $6 million from the rail industry to GOP campaigns in 2017, backed by President Trump, were effective in reversing requirements that rail cars carrying hazardous flammable materials install modern electronic braking systems to replace Civil War-era systems. Lobbyists have pressed for fewer workers on trains, longer and heavier trains, and reduced fines for penalties – as well as against paid sick leave for workers and having to define trains carrying hazardous chemicals like the Norfolk Southern that derailed in East Palestine as “high hazard,” which would increase additional safety requirements, costs and public notification. Lobbyists are already working to prevent “burdensome regulations” that, no doubt, include provisions of the proposed Rail Safety Act of 2023, supported by Democratic and Republican Senators in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Supreme Court decisions
Courts have granted corporate entities with a long list of constitutional rights which were intended exclusively to human beings. This includes corporate entities having the “right” to contribute to political campaigns. This has permitted all corporations, including Norfolk Southern, to corrupt the political process favorable to their interests, such as the previously mentioned laws and regulations profitable for railroads, but harmful to persons without the means to spend large sums of money to have their voices heard, communities helped and environment protected. Supreme Court-granted corporate Fourth Amendment search and seizure rights prevent surprise inspections of corporate property intended to protect workers and communities.
Ineffective and/or captured regulatory agencies
Railroads were the first federal government regulated corporations with the creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission in 1887 in response to widespread public rage over railroad abuses and malpractices. The railroads preferred government regulation over direct public ownership, which was a growing public call over many natural monopolies. Railroad executives felt they could have influence over agencies through appointments of regulators and limiting the scope of their oversight, which has proven true. Public safety inspections are also limited by regulatory agency funding, which impacts technology needs and human inspectors. The Federal Railroad Administration, the major railroad regulatory agency, has only 400 inspectors to inspect the nation’s rail system covering 140,000 miles. This has forced the FHA to increasingly allow railroad corporations to inspect their own trains, tracks and signals, an increasingly common practice across all regulatory agencies. The EPA recently announced that it’s requiring Norfolk Southern to directly test for dioxins in East Palestine. Where’s the public accountability when, in effect, an entity charged with a crime gets to be the prosecutor, judge and jury?
Criminalization of protest
The response by the state, supported by corporations, to public protests and organizing responding to corporate assaults has been to pass laws criminalizing such activities to punish and smear individuals who exercise their right to peaceful assembly. Forty-five states have considered 265 bills, 39 of which have already passed in 20 states since 2017. Penalties of felonies serve as a deterrent to individuals to attend public events where they might be arrested and plant the message that those who protest must be extremists. This mindset is reflected in the reaction by federal and Ohio “law enforcement” agencies to the recent visit of whistleblower Erin Brockovich to East Palestine. A report by the agencies “assesses that special interest extremist groups will continue to call for changes in governmental policy, which may lead to protests in/around East Palestine and/or at the Statehouse in Columbus.” Clearly, even a public meeting that Brockovich was planning was deemed as dangerous.
The East Palestine tragedy, while dramatic and horrific in its hardships to those who live nearby, wildlife and the environment, is sadly merely a symptom of current political realities. Essential is fundamental systemic change to address not only all the above mentioned conditions, but also to structurally increase the power of people to have legitimate influence over decisions affecting their lives, communities and beyond.
Enacting the We the People Amendment, HJR48 that would abolish all corporate constitutional rights and political money defined as free speech, is urgent. But fundamental self-governance goes beyond the amendment. Independent people’s movements led by individuals who’ve been historically treated unjustly is a prerequisite for how to get real democracy on track – for the very first time.
Greg Coleridge is Co-Director of Move to Amend. He previously worked for more than three decades with the American Friends Service Committee in Ohio where he educated, advocated and organized on a range of justice, peace, environmental and democracy issues — including helping coordinate Move to Amend activities in the Buckeye state. He is the author of The Depth of Change: Selected Writings and Remarks on Social Change (2022); Citizens over Corporations: A Brief History of Democracy in Ohio and Challenges to Freedom in the Future (2003), writer of the documentary CorpOrNation: The Story of Citizens and Corporations in Ohio (2003), and contributed several articles to the anthology Defying Corporations, Defining Democracy – A Book of History and Strategy (2001). He currently maintains and distributes via email a weekly REAL Democracy History Calendar (https://realdemocracyhistorycalendar.wordpress.com/) and Monetary History Calendar (https://monetarycalendar.wordpress.com/) He is a Board Member of the Alliance for Just Money (AFJM). He previously served an elected term on the national governing board of Common Cause and was a Principal with the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD).
“Abolishing corporate constitutional rights,” writes Coleridge, “shifts back from the judicial to the legislative arena the public ability to define corporate actions to ensure that the health, safety, and welfare of people, communities and the natural world are prioritized.” (Photo: Sean Gladwell / iStock via Getty Images)
Abolishing all corporate constitutional rights by enacting the We the People Amendment (HJR48), soon to be introduced again by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, is the only strategy to make corporations authentically democratically accountable.
A subcommittee of the full House Judiciary Committee held a hearing last week on the “Weaponization of the Federal Government.” Two panels discussed the “politicization of the FBI and DOJ and attacks on American civil liberties.” It rehashed old grievances about how Trump and others were treated by the two agencies over the last few years.
If exposing and ending “weaponization of the government” is the target, then the Judiciary Committee should take aim at the single biggest culprit: corporations. This investigation would be enlightening since the corporate “weaponization” or hijacking of the government has been so blatant, widespread and persistent for more than a century.
Most corporations in the U.S. were originally chartered or licenced at the state level by legislatures one-at-a-time. Corporate charters stipulated specific conditions to ensure that corporations served the common good. Charters were routinely revoked when corporations acted “ultra vires,” that is. beyond their defined authority. None of those conditions included bestowing inherent rights to corporations to dominate virtually every aspect of society and government as they do today.
Corporations have amassed enormous political and economic power by escaping state legislative authority and public accountability by “weaponizing” four sectors of government.
1. Corporations “weaponize” states against one another.
Corporate agents sought federal laws to preempt state laws and state laws to preempt local laws limiting corporate powers. The federal Sherman Antitrust Act, for example, was a tepid federal response to strong laws enacted in over 20 states to prevent corporate monopolies and, in some cases, calls for public ownership. The pro-corporate Senator John Sherman warned that Congress “must heed [the public’s] appeal or be ready for the socialist, the communist, and the nihilist.” Sherman is still used to preempt state laws. Meanwhile, local laws protecting residents from guns, fracking, minimum wage and many other local concerns passed by municipal councils have been preempted by state laws.
3. Corporations “weaponize” regulatory agencies.
Corporations supported the creation of “regulatory agencies” as many states sought public ownership over several types of companies – including utilities and transportation. These agencies regulated vs prohibited harms and insulated companies from direct legislative oversight and public pressure and mobilization. Moreover, companies advocate for the appointment by executives (i.e. Presidents and Governors) of corporate-friendly regulators.
4. Corporations “weaponize” the courts.
The ultimate escape of public control over corporations was granting “constitutional rights” to corporations. Though there’s no mention of corporate entities in the U.S. Constitution, the Supreme Court proclaimed over the course of a century that a corporation is a person with First, Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment protections – rights that go well beyond corporate First Amendment free speech “rights” to contribute money in elections. This makes public accountability impossible over corporate entities. Corporate constitutional rights are the impenetrable shield against efforts to assert human rights and the right to a livable world over never-intended “corporate rights.”
Abolishing all corporate constitutional rights by enacting the We the People Amendment (HJR48), soon to be introduced again by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, is the only strategy to make corporations authentically democratically accountable.
This requires building a people’s movement. Abolishing corporate constitutional rights shifts back from the judicial to the legislative arena the public ability to define corporate actions to ensure that the health, safety and welfare of people, communities and the natural world are prioritized. Ending all the other ways corporations have “weaponized government” to consolidate political and economic power becomes much easier once corporations are disarmed of all constitutional rights.
If Congress isn’t going to expose the corporate “weaponization of government,” then it’s up to us to not only do so, but to end it.
Matt and Justin give an update on the redistricting battle in Ohio, and discuss Starbucks unionization efforts, police surveillance networks, the fight to get marijuana legalization on the ballot this year, and issues with Youngstown’s water meters.
Kathleen Caffrey interviews Greg Coleridge from Move to Amend Ohio about their efforts to reduce the effect of money in politics, and their current fight to revoke FirstEnergy’s corporate charter.
May 20, 2022 Veteran activist Greg Coleridge speaks at Cleveland Peace Action’s 2022 Annual Meeting, on the challenges and opportunities for change in an interconnected world. A lively Q&A follows Greg’s talk, including ideas on Inspiring and sustaining our activist energies.
Organizing for any solution to a national problem presents multiple challenges, among them is to make the proposed solution relevant locally to people’s lives.
Bigger problems require proportionally bigger solutions, but those solutions can be difficult for individuals to relate to unless there are tangible ways presented to both understand the problem and solution and to take actions to bring change.
Educating on our destructive monetary system and proposing ways to democratize it to benefit people, places and the planet certainly falls into this category of a big problem needing a big solution. But how to localize it?
There are multiple strategies available to monetary reformers. One strategy is to study an approach of Move to Amend (MTA), a national group addressing the problems of big money corrupting elections and corporations increasingly dominating our lives by organizing to pass a Constitutional Amendment that would abolish the legal doctrines of “political money equals free speech” and corporate constitutional rights (i.e. “corporate personhood” for shorthand).
Like authentic monetary reform, ending “money as speech” and corporate rule via a Constitutional Amendment is a massive national solution. It’s a challenge to connect the proposal to local individuals and public officials. It’s also tough to find local educational and organizing “hooks” to get people to not only think and talk about it, but to take meaningful action.
Local ballot initiatives
MTA organizers in Ohio came up with the idea of organizing legal initiative petition campaigns to place on local ballots. Voters were asked whether they support Congress passing the proposed Amendment affirming that corporations do not have constitutional rights and money is not free speech, in the spirit of the national MTA We the People Amendment.
Anyone who’s ever been involved in local initiative petition campaigns knows that they are terrific ways to educate, organize and develop local leadership. Gathering signatures involved training petitioners, who were grounded in talking points and in how to approach individuals. Soliciting signatures educated potential voters. Once the campaigns were successful in gaining ballot access, the campaign flips to educate the entire community to vote in favor of the initiative — which, in many cases, gained media attention and invitations to speak at voter education forums.
While people-driven initiative campaigns at the local level on all kinds of issues are common, an additional feature of the Move to Amend initiatives was very unique in the 12 Ohio communities where the initiatives were enacted and became law.
That feature was the legal mandate that the local government (i.e. city or village) sponsor, publicize and have representatives at an annual or biennial public hearing where residents and, in some instances, others could testify on the impact of money in politics and corporate rule on their lives, community, state, nation or world. While details varied on several features, all 12 communities have been holding these public hearings — some since 2012.
The public hearings have been significant in keeping the problems of money in elections and corporate rule, as well as the We the People Amendment, alive beyond the original local ballot campaign in several ways:
First, the public hearings provide an opportunity for local MTA organizers to recruit representatives from other groups working on solutions to problems that are thwarted by money spent in elections by special interests and corporate constitutional rights. This helps those representatives, whether physically in person or virtually together at the hearing, see the connections between their concerns and the need to pass the We the People Amendment.
Second, the public hearings are a means to continually educate local MTA supporters and expose the larger community to both the problems and the solution promoted by MTA. The exposure is all the more effective if the hearings are publicized in the media beforehand and/or reported on afterwards.
Third, the hearings are a chance to directly educate local public officials who attend the hearings, who are both testified to and invited to testify themselves. After all, the public policy influence of money in elections and the preemption of local laws by corporate entities legislatively and in the courts are increasing realities to local elected officials. Besides, it’s a fact that some local public officials become state officials and some of those state officials become our U.S. Senators and Representatives — building a relationship with them now increases the chances they’ll become champions to our cause later.
One more provision of the dozen MTA-driven ballot initiatives is worth noting. Following each public hearing, the municipality is required to summarize the testimony, send it to the appropriate federal and state elected officials and remind them that voters in their communities want the We the People Amendment to be passed. Sometimes, the summary is coupled with written copies of all the testimony presented. When the municipality hasn’t included the written testimony, local MTA organizers have sent it themselves to the relevant public officials.
At a recent Cleveland Move to Amend public hearing, AFJM members John Howell, Steve Norris and Greg Coleridge (who’s also National Outreach Director for Move to Amend) spoke. You can view the public hearing held on Zoom this year here with the AFJM members speaking at 12:01, 50:41 and 62:59 respectively.
This is certainly not the only strategy to make a national call for monetary reform locally relevant. But it is one way to educate the community and public officials, outreach to local groups, develop local leadership grounded in the issue, recruit new supporters and attract media attention. Oh, and by the way, it also sends a recurring message to elected officials that the people of the community en masse support authentic fundamental change.
Connecting monetary reform to corporate constitutional rights
There’s a vicious symbiotic relationship between current laws on monetary policies and money in politics and corporate power. Economic power almost always translates into political power.
Monetary policies that continue to enrich banking corporations that perpetually profit from the creation of money as debt and through subsidies and, when needed, bailouts, allow these financial entities to flex their political muscle through political campaign contributions (i.e. what some call “legalized bribery”).
Senator Dick Durbin stated in a moment of candor in 2009: “And the banks — hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created — are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.” The Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) remains “far and away the largest source of campaign contributions to federal candidates and parties”. This condition is a reflection of corporations both hijacking First Amendment “free speech” rights, which were intended exclusively for human beings, and the constitutional doctrine that “political money is free speech,” instead of what money actually is — property.
The power of the financial industry is also a function in what they can shield — namely their internal financial affairs — from public scrutiny. Like many business corporations, their defense from being transparent hinges on the corporate hijacking of Fourth Amendment Constitutional privacy rights, which again were rights originally intended solely for human beings. This has emboldened in the case of banking entities to claim without independent verification the need for greater financial subsidies and other support lest these increasingly “too big to fail” institutions, in fact, fail and risk pulling the entire economy into an abyss. Yet another instance of their increased power to influence public policies.
It should be noted that original public charters creating banks in many states mandated that the bank’s books be open to periodic public inspection. This ensured that banking corporations remained publicly accountable and subordinate in power to the public.
These current realities have created an outsized economic and political influence of financial corporations. In such a legal and political environment in which the fundamental constitutional ground rules are rigged to benefit the very rich and business corporations, there’s little chance of passage of monetary reform or, frankly, any solution that addresses fundamental change and/or reduces corporate power.
It also, quite frankly, makes it enormously difficult to pass the We the People Amendment. That’s why it’s essential that AFJM continues to work on passing one or more laws creating authentic monetary change and other organizations working on their respective agendas to change laws or regulations creating more justice in all their forms. Yet, it’s critical to understand the limitation of working exclusively to improve any condition legally if constitutionally the rules are stacked against us, rules that can and have time and again preempted democratically passed laws benefiting workers, consumers, the environment and the natural world.
It’s why AFJM and other groups need to devote some energy to changing the constitutional ground rules — to create a level political playing field where We the People can actually mean all the people working to pass authentic monetary change and create other laws and regulations to the benefit of all people and all living things.
Greg Coleridge | Outreach Director, National Move to Amend Coalition
Happy Democracy Day!
Democracy is founded on the premise that the People are the source of all power.
‘We the People’ created corporations as tools to serve us, not themselves. As sovereigns we can regulate and restrict corporations as we see fit. The Supreme Court’s invention of constitutional rights for corporations has turned this fundamental principle on its head.
For the first century-plus of our history, corporations were strictly controlled and had no constitutional rights. Corporations couldn’t even exist unless state legislation—called charters—created them.
Statutes created corporations to give them the powers needed to conduct business for the peoples’ benefit. Logic dictates that corporations have only those rights granted them by statute. Statutes cannot create constitutional rights.
Corporations do not need constitutional rights to conduct business. Logically, an entity created to serve people should not have the same constitutional rights as those people it is supposed to serve.
Corporations aren’t mentioned in the Constitution. So the framers didn’t think they should have constitutional rights. But, starting with the 1819 Dartmouth case, the Supreme Court inserted corporations into the Constitution and progressively invented rights for corporations, anointing them with many of the same constitutional rights as natural persons like you and me.
Logic, history or law does not support the corporate constitutional rights doctrine created by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has never explained why artificial entities like corporations should have the same constitutional rights as natural persons when corporations do not need constitutional rights to do business and have special advantages that individual persons do not have, e.g. perpetual life and limited liability.
This court-invented constitutional doctrine has allowed corporations to abuse and harm the human beings they are supposed to serve. In addition to using their so-called free speech rights under the First Amendment to buy politicians, corporations have used other constitutional rights such as the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to undemocratically impose pollution, water contamination, environmental destruction, harm to workers and other assaults on unwilling local communities and individuals.
Increasingly, state legislatures and even municipal governments – such as Mayors and City Councils – have seen their police powers to protect the health, safety and welfare of their residents erode as corporate entities have successfully overturned locally passed ordinances on any number of consumer, economic, worker or environmental concerns by preemption or by going to court claiming that those laws “discriminate” under the 14th Amendment or are an infringement of trade under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause.
Hundreds of such laws have been invalidated across the country over decades, creating a chilling effect on local officials since increasingly corporate rights trump local rights. Given this trend, one might reasonably ask why local governments should even exist if their only purpose may at some point be limited to determine stop sign placements, floral arrangements in planters on main street or the date of next summer’s apple festival. Decisions of real importance are increasingly hijacked. Increasing corporate constitutional rights decreases the need and taxpayer expense for mayors, councilpersons and local governments everywhere – including in Brecksville. The authority of local public officials – not to mention we the People in general — are under fundamental assault.
This is why passage of a 28th Constitutional Amendment, the We the People Amendment (HJR 48), is so important, which will end all never-intended, inalienable constitutional rights for corporate entities (corporate personhood) and the equally bizarre constitutional doctrine that political money in elections is equal to free speech —both doctrines of which were expanded in the 2010 Citizens United decision
We wouldn’t be here this evening if not for the tireless efforts of Brecksville residents to place the issue of ending big money in politics and corporate rule on the ballot in 2012 and to create this annual public hearing — as well as for Brecksville voters to pass this initiative – one of 705 communities across the country that have take a stand.
Thank you Brecksville citizens for being part of this growing transparitsan democracy movement.