Greg Coleridge directs AFSC's work for economic and political justice in Northeast Ohio and coordinates Move to Amend Ohio.Photo: AFSC / Jon Krieg
CITIZEN INITIATIVE TO END CORPORATE PERSONHOOD AND MONEY AS SPEECH ON NOVEMBER BALLOT
[Cleveland Heights, OH] The Cleveland Heights City Council voted unanimously on August 5, 2013 to allow a citizen initiative to be placed on the November ballot. The initiative calls on Congress to pass a federal Constitutional Amendment to end corporate “personhood” and money as speech.
The initiative, if passed by voters, establishes an annual public hearing in Cleveland Heights to examine the impact of big money in politics on our democracy.
Following the public hearing each year, the Clerk of Council shall write letters to our federal and state representatives summarizing the content of the public hearing and informing them that in November 2013, the citizens of Cleveland Heights voted for a Constitutional Amendment declaring that only human beings, not corporations, possess Constitutional rights and that money is not equivalent to political speech. The letters would assert that the passage of the ballot measure shall be considered an instruction by citizens to their Congressional representatives.
The City Council action followed the submission in late June of nearly 3100 signatures by members and supporters of Cleveland Heights Move to Amend. More than 2400 signatures were deemed valid, far in excess of 1547 needed for council to take action.
Rather than simply adopting the submitted initiative as an ordinance, the City Council agreed to let voters decide the fate of the initiative, a decision advocated, and applauded, by Cleveland Heights Move to Amend.
"Using the power of the Constitution, corporations override local ordinances to place cell towers, big-box stores, and hydro-fracking installations pretty much where they please," says Cleveland Heights Move to Amend member Carla Rautenberg. "We all know that the doctrine of money as protected free speech has corrupted our national politics. So this issue is vital at the local, state and federal levels of government."
Cleveland Heights Move to Amend is an affiliate of the national Move to Amend campaign (http://movetoamend.org), a coalition that has coordinated the passage of more than 450 municipal resolutions and citizen initiatives. Move to Amend formed in response to the 2010 Citizens United vs FEC Supreme Court decision, which expanded never-intended constitutional rights for corporations.\
That decision resulted in record sums of spending on political advertising by corporations and wealthy individuals in 2012 through SuperPACs and 501c-4 tax-exempt organizations – structures that shielded the sources of much of the political contributions.
Voters in Brecksville and Newburgh Heights passed similar ballot measures last November, while citizens in Defiance will vote on a similar proposal this November. Meanwhile, similarly worded resolutions have been passed by City Councils in Athens, Oberlin, Fremont and Barberton, while Lakewood City Council will consider enacting their own resolution next month.
Citizens in Mentor are working to put an initiative on the ballot in November 2014. Move to Amend leaders in Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo, Oxford, Summit County, and Newark are working on passing council resolutions in the near future.
“Citizens in Cleveland Heights this fall will join a growing list of people in communities across Ohio and the nation who are communicating their views on the role of corporations, other artificial legal entities and big money in our elections and society," said Greg Coleridge, Cleveland Heights resident and coordinator of the Ohio Move to Amend network (http://movetoamend.org-ohio) and Director of the Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee.
“It’s critical our elected officials hear directly from We the People in Cleveland Heights that corporate rule and influence due to political money from a wealthy few must end,” Coleridge said.
The Ohio Move to Amend network is composed of 16 affiliate and partner groups across Ohio -- all working to end corporate personhood and money as speech.