“Democracy Day” Public Hearing Testimony

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Testimony of Greg Coleridge
5th Annual Democracy Day Public Hearing
Cleveland Heights, Ohio | January 25, 2018

The federal Republican tax measure passed at the end of 2017 wasn’t a bill as much as a reward — to corporations and the super wealthy.

According to the Tax Policy Center, the top 1 percent will receive 34 percent of the corporate tax cut benefit, and the top 20 percent, 70 percent of the benefit. Eliminating the estate tax only benefits those individuals with wealth exceeding $5 million ($10 million for married couples). Eliminating the corporate and reducing the individual alternative minimum tax also benefits only corporations and the super rich.

Republican Rep. Chris Collins stated about the bill: “My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’” Sen. Lindsey Graham reportedly asserted that if the GOP doesn’t pass the bill, “contributions will stop.” Just 13 days after the tax law was passed, Charles Koch and his wife donated nearly $500,000 to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s joint fundraising committee. This is legalized bribery at its most blatant and sickening form.

So if corporate and individual donors are the winners of the tax bill, who are the losers? The nearly $1.5 trillion increase to the federal deficit will be paid by poor, working and middle class in spending cuts to government programs (including Social Security and Medicare if the Republicans have their way) and tax increases once the very modest tax cuts to the middle class end after eight years. Up to 13 million people also stand to lose their health insurance due to the tax bill/reward. That includes me. I doubt too many of these 13 million were the donors to its Republican supporters. I sure the hell wasn’t.

States and cities are also losers. It will be harder for states and cities to pay their bills. Ending the federal estate tax, reducing individual and corporate taxes and capping federal deductions for state and local taxes will have the double hit of reducing revenue and increasing calls to reduce state and local taxes. I don’t envy any state and local elected official having to deal with these twin challenges.

The rights of corporations and the super wealthy to donate or invest in politics since constitutionally corporations are “persons” and money is “speech” is a major reason for this historic tax heist. But we would be irresponsible here tonight if we did not underline that perversion of the First Amendment by corporations and the super rich is not the only constitutional problem.

Constitutional perversion by corporations claiming “personhood” transcends the First Amendment — and has done so for 130 years. Corporations have claimed 4th Amendment search and seizure rights, 5th Amendment takings rights, 14th Amendment due process and equal protection right — as well as other provisions of the First Amendment beyond the right to speak — including the right not to speak and, thanks to the bizarre Hobby Lobby decision, religious rights. The Commerce and Contracts clauses have also been hijacked to overturn hundreds of democratically enacted laws at the state and local levels.

None of this will ever change is all we do is focus on elections, laws or regulations. I wish it was that easy. It will only chance by changing the foundational governing rules of our nation — by amending the US Constitution, as Move to Amend proposes, to end all never intended corporate constitutional rights and money defined as free speech via the We the People Amendment, H.J.R 48.

In Lewis Carroll’s Through The Looking Glass, Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying, one can’t believe impossible things.” In response, the Queen countered, “I daresay you haven’t had much practice…When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

The history of social change in this country via social movements has always been about people believing in the impossible and acting on it. The result – depending on external circumstances and internal preparation – was what was seen as impossible in one year or era became inevitable in the next. Every single social change that expanded the rights to human beings in this nation was considered at first impossible.

Move to Amend’s We the People Amendment is inevitable if we are to avoid the complete evaporation of what’s left of our representative democracy. The Republican tax bill is one more ghastly and in your face reality that our government is fundamentally broken and only We the People can fundamentally fix it.

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Historic Tax Heist letter submission to New York Times

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Below is my unpublished letter submitted to the Times on December 3…

To the Editor,

While the Senate tax bill may be in many ways “a historic tax heist” (NYT 12/2 editorial), it’s quite ordinary in demonstrating the power of corporations and the superrich to influence public policy. The blatancy of the influence on the tax bill was greater than normal, but the process is a very old story that has been so common for so long that it’s hardly newsworthy. The public’s will has been for decades, was on this issue, and will forever continue to be virtually ignored due to the bizarre constitutional doctrines that money in elections is equal to First Amendment “free speech” and that corporations possess constitutional “personhood” rights, including the right to lobby and contribute/invest in elections. Until these never-intended constitutional rights are abolished, as proposed by the We the People Amendment, HJR 48, we will indefinitely experience (and read editorials commenting on) the growing disconnect between public interests and needs and public policies that serve corporate and wealthy interests.

Greg Coleridge
Outreach Co-Director, Move to Amend Coalition

Corporations and the Super Rich Tax Democracy

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(Photo: Peoples World/flickr/cc)

Trump’s claim that “we are giving them a big, beautiful Christmas present in the form of a tremendous tax cut” is spot on when applied to corporations and the super rich.
by Greg Coleridge

https://www.commondreams.org/views/2017/11/30/corporations-and-super-rich-tax-democracy

 

Seizing on Opioid Crisis, a Drug Maker Lobbies Hard for Its Product

This has it all: a corporation in Ohio exploiting the opiod crisis by pushing a suspect drug on treatment providers, judges, politicians (including our very own Senator Rob Portman who received $29,000 in cash from the drug corporation) and even those in jail and prison with free samples. A political system and society hooked on corporate constitutional rights and money defined as free speech will never be a real and clean democracy.

House Passes Bill Aimed At Reversing Dodd-Frank Financial Regulations

Even the weak Dodd-Frank was too much for financial corporations. The FIRE (Finance, Insurance & Real Estate) industry is near the top of those that spend/contribute/invest $ in lobbying and political campaigns. Another fine example of their investment royally paying off…and why we need the We the People Amendment.

http://www.npr.org/2017/06/08/532036374/house-passes-bill-aimed-at-reversing-dodd-frank-financial-regulations?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20170608

 

Gorsuch’s Gory Expansion of Corporate Personhood

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by Greg Coleridge

http://poclad.org/BWA/2017/BWA_2017_MarApr.html

Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch didn’t invent “corporate personhood,” the shorthand term used to describe the ludicrous decisions by U.S. Supreme Courts to sanctify corporate entities with inalienable constitutional rights intended exclusively for human beings.

As a federal judge, however, Gorsuch contributed to its expansion by applying it in creatively delusional ways in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby1. That 2014 case established that a “closely held”2 for-profit corporation, apart from the human beings connected to it, possesses religious rights.

Corporations were originally subordinate to We the People

Supreme Court Justices began more than a century ago twisting existing constitutional doctrines into a pretzel to justify with straight faces that corporate charters issued by federal and state governments possessed constitutional rights.

As followers of the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD) are well aware, corporate entities were not intended originally at the nation’s founding to possess inalienable constitutional rights. They were granted charters, or licenses, one at a time by We the People via legislatures that precisely defined the limits of their actions. These included, among many others, limited charter durations and purposes, limits on the amount of land ownership, and stipulations of who could be corporate directors

Corporate charters were deemed to be democratic tools wielded to ensure public authority and control over subordinate corporate creations by the public. The corporate charter conferred “privileges,” not “rights.” Corporations were designed to be publicly accountable. If a corporation violated the democratically determined terms of its charter, state legislators or courts often revoked its charter with its assets distributed to those negatively impacted.

In a 1900 ruling to revoke the charter of a dairy corporation, the Ohio Supreme Court stated:

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. In the present case the acts of the defendant have been persistent, defiant and flagrant, and no other course is left to the court than to enter a judgment of ouster and to appoint trustees to wind up the business of the concern.3

The role of a corporation was to provide useful goods or services. It wasn’t to lobby, contribute or invest in political campaigns, or even to engage in charitable activities.

Corporations become legal “persons”

All this changed when corporate agents began effectively influencing state legislatures and in the appointment of corporate attorneys to the Supreme Court. Corporations escaped democratic controls by pressing legislatures to adopt general incorporation laws (vs. one-at-a-time charters); and by shifting legal power from smaller to larger and more inaccessible arenas:
•    The state to federal level,
•    Legislatures to regulatory agencies, and,
•    The legislative and executive branches to the judiciary (i.e. courts, including the Supreme Court).

It didn’t take long for corporate lawyers to appeal decisions limiting corporate actions to their peers on the Supreme Court, which “found” corporations as legal persons in a wide number of unforeseen places in the Constitution. These included within the 1st Amendment (right to speak and right not to speak), 4th Amendment (right against search and seizure), 5th Amendment (right against “takings”) and 14th Amendment (right of due process and equal protection of the laws). Corporate attorneys also hijacked the Contracts and Commerce clauses, which became anti-democratic battering rams.

Scores of federal court decisions over the last century have widened and deepened corporate constitutional rights. These decisions overturned local, state and federal laws that had previously protected workers, consumers, communities and the environment. In this way, the occupants of corporate boardrooms increased the political and economic power of the corporation at the expense of ordinary people.

As evident from this brief historical account and despite what many believe, the 2010 Citizens United vs FEC4 Supreme Court decision didn’t initiate the anointment with inalienable constitutional rights to corporate entities. The controversial 5-4 decision by the Supremes merely widened the already existing 1st Amendment free speech rights of corporate entities to make political donations (or investments) in elections.

Gorsuch further expands “corporate personhood”

While serving on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Neil Gorsuch played a prominent role in further widening and deepening constitutional “rights” bestowed on corporate entities in an entirely new arena: religion. He was among the majority who ruled in the Hobby Lobby case that federal law prohibited the Department of Health and Human Services from requiring closely held, for-profit secular corporations to provide contraceptive coverage as part of their employer-sponsored health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act if it violated the corporation’s religious beliefs.

You read it right: the corporation’s “religious rights.” The U.S. Supreme Court upon appeal affirmed the decision in a controversial 5-4 decision.

Hobby Lobby Corporation’s owners claimed they shouldn’t have had to be forced to comply with federal laws that violated their personal religious convictions. They referenced the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits the government from imposing a “substantial burden” on a person’s exercise of religion, even in a generally enforced law.

Just to be clear about the decision: Gorsuch and others didn’t just rule that Hobby Lobby’s owners had constitutionally-protected religious beliefs, but that the artificial legal creation of the state itself, Hobby Lobby Incorporated, possessed religious convictions.

To extend and pretend that private, personal religious rights apply to public entities such as business corporations is a breach of a constitutional firewall with potential discriminatory implications.  Dissenting in the case, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “[t]he exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons, not artificial legal entities,” the ruling was “a decision of startling breadth” and “[t]he court…has ventured into a minefield.”5

The Hobby Lobby case opens the door as never before to requests for exemptions by private business corporations to laws that apply to human beings based on any number of claimed religious beliefs. Some individuals, for example, currently hold strong religious convictions about everything from racial, religious and sexual-orientation discrimination to the role of women in society. Hiring, paying, treating and providing benefits to employees are potentially up for grabs. Providing service (or not) to customers based on any number of factors is potentially at the whim of certain business corporations. Even specific for-profit charter schools could impose religiously motivated racial segregation policies on their students.

What existing or potential civil rights laws would not be impotent to claims that corporate discrimination against employees was motivated by strongly held religious beliefs of its owners? Thanks to Hobby Lobby, the corporation provides cover for business owners to impose racism, sexism, homophobia and classism. Those wishing to discriminate were handed a powerful weapon in the Hobby Lobby decision.

This isn’t just fantasy. It’s already happening. A federal district judge last year ruled that a transgender employee could be fired by a funeral home owner who believed that gender transition violated his biblical teachings6.

Ending corporate personhood

Corporate personhood has been normalized for too long – with disastrous legal, political, economic, social and environmental consequences. It’s not legitimate. It’s not democratic. It’s not human.

Never mind for the moment “fake news.” Corporate personhood is “fake constitutional law.” Corporations are corporations. People are people. Corporations are legal, subordinate creations of We the People. These artificial entities should receive only privileges, not rights, as authorized by the public.

It’s way past time to affirm that only human beings, not corporate entities, possess inalienable constitutional rights. Move to Amend’s We the People Amendment7 does just this. It should be our long-term goal.

In the immediate term, Neil Gorsuch has played a role in the gory expansion of corporate personhood. If we’re serious about protecting what little democracy remains in our nation, his nomination for the Supreme Court must be defeated.

The Citizens United decision was for many people the first time they had ever heard of “corporate personhood.”  Thanks to the Gorsuch nomination and his ruling on Hobby Lobby, many more are becoming aware.

Call it the “Corporate Personhood Awareness and Wake Up Call 2.0.” This is a teachable moment to educate. It’s also an actionable moment to resist. Let’s take full advantage of these opportunities.

Notes

1 573 U.S. ___ (2014)
2 “Closely held” corporations are defined by the Internal Revenue Service as those which a) have more than 50% of the value of their outstanding stock owned (directly or indirectly) by 5 or fewer individuals at any time during the last half of the tax year; and b) are not personal service corporations. By this definition, approximately 90% of U.S. corporations are “closely held”, and approximately 52% of the U.S. workforce is employed by “closely held” corporations. [Source: Wikipedia]
3 State ex rel. Monnett v. Capital City Dairy Co., 62 OS 350 (1900)
4 558 U.S. 310 (2010)
5 https://www.scribd.com/doc/231974154/Ginsburg-Dissent
6 https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3031818/Son-of-Hobby.pdf
7 http://wethepeopleamendment.org

Testimony at Cleveland Heights “Democracy Day” Public Hearing

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January 25, 2017

Move to Amend’s proposed constitutional We the People Amendment has two components. One is much simpler to understand – ending the constitutional doctrine that money is equal to free speech – because the problems connecting big money to political lobbying and elections are so pervasive.

The other component – ending corporate constitutional rights – is more challenging to grasp. The fundamental problems with corporate constitutional rights transcend the influence of corporate money contributed or invested in political lobbying and elections. Corporate constitutional rights have their own set of components that have in many instances over a century corrupted and perverted authentic democracy.

Beyond corporate free speech rights preventing laws limiting corporate campaign donations, those same 1st Amendment free speech rights have prevented communities from acquiring the right to know what ingredients (i.e, chemicals, GMOs) are in their food. That’s due to the acquired corporate 1st Amendment right not to speak. Corporate religious rights, granted in the Hobby Lobby decision, have limited access to health care to employees. Corporate property rights, (via the 5th Amendment takings clause) have limited laws protecting communities from environmental destruction. Corporate privacy rights (via the 4th Amendment) have limited the health, safety and welfare at workplaces over decades. And corporate commerce rights (via the perversion of the Commerce Clause and 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause) have limited laws and regulations on pipelines, transportation of toxic waste, mining, and landfills.

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Nearly 70 people attended the Democracy Day public hearing

Corporate anthropologist Jane Anne Morris in her book Gaveling Down the Rabble states that 100’s of democratically enacted laws and regulations protecting workers, consumers and the environment passed by Democratic and Republican state and local legislatures over decades have been overturned by the corporate perversion of the Commerce Clause and 14th Amendment. Before the  1st Amendment became the go-to democratically destructive hammer of corporate agents, it was the Commerce Clause and 14th Amendment.

If all we do is overturn Citizens United or merely end money as speech, corporate agents will reach back into their anti-democratic tool kit and assault us like they did in the past – usurping democratically enacted laws. Amending the Constitution is damn hard. It rarely happens. It’s not like reaching a goal through passing a series of laws one piece at a time. We only have one chance. We better make the most of it. That’s why abolishing the legal doctrine of money defined as free speech and corporations defined as legal persons as reflected in the We the People Amendment is mandatory.

History shows that what seems impossible today becomes inevitable tomorrow based on the degree of internal preparedness and timing of external conditions.

Now’s the time to educate ourselves and others, pass resolutions, collect organizational endorsement, organize ballot initiatives, and encourage Congressional endorsers. The right time and conditions externally will inevitably arrive.