Cleveland Democracy Day Public Hearing Testimony

May 8, 2023

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. 

Thank you.

Greg Coleridge (he/him)
National Co-Director, Move to Amend Coalition

Is democracy possible when corporations have the same rights as people – video

Talk by Greg Coleridge, January 28, 2003

Chat Action Deep Dive Sessions

We (the Chat People) came into existence as the brainchild of Stanley Pokras, who offered audience members of Humanity Rising Sessions the opportunity to convene as an “afterparty” chat group. Our “afterparty” format has also been evolving. Now we are consistently joined by some, if not all, of the presenters who move from the “main stage” into our chat dialogue. We have morphed from an informal discussion group into an activist community undertaking several diverse projects. The Deep Dive sessions are about sharing the expertise in the group. They are workshops and seminars covering a diverse range of themes and ideas.

The Corporate Weaponization of Government

“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.


Feb 15, 2023 Common Dreams

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 moved corporate charters from states that limited corporate independence to states with corporate friendly laws, thanks to the corruption of state legislators. Originally that was New Jersey. Today it’s Delaware, where over 60 percent of Fortune 500 firms are incorporated.

2. Corporations “weaponize” legislatures.

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 gunsfrackingminimum 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.


Greg Coleridge is Co-Director of Move to Amend and former Director of the Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee.

Full Bio >

Why Vote?

Some things we can control, others we can’t.

We can’t individually control the flood of dark money in elections and all the lies, distortions and negativity that it’s created. Nor the increasing number of pathetic – some dangerous – candidates running for political office. Nor the conscious efforts of voter suppression and gerrymandering. Nor who wins.

Some of this we have greater control over by being connected to organizations that are working to build power to create democratic, just, peaceful and planet-protective change – such as Move to Amend.

But we can individually vote. One vote rarely, rarely makes a difference. But such logic, extrapolated, is exactly what those promoted autocracy want us to believe. And of course voting only goes so far – often, but certainly not always, the best choice being not very good. But it’s still a choice worth making – however large or small of a difference it makes – so long as we understand one basic principle: voting is important but is only one part of our responsibility as an individual living in society. Our larger responsibility is between elections to flex our democratic muscles both individually and collectively to educate, advocate and organize for real democracy (for the very first time by the way) that goes beyond changing faces, rules and regulations to include structural change, which in our society must include constitutional change to ensure that We the People include All the People.

So vote today – but commit to become more of a change-maker tomorrow and beyond. Onward!

Ohio Advocate Podcast

May 29th, 2022 Show

The Ohio Advocate

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.

Greg Coleridge: Cultivating Peace with Justice in a Militarized World

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.