Brecksville Democracy Day Public Hearing

February 26, 2019

This was the 4th public hearing following passage in 2012 of a citizen initiative calling on Congress to end corporate constitutional rights and money defined as free speech...and mandating a biennial city-sponsored public hearing.Testimony was accepted on the local impact of money in elections and corporate rule. The initiative was sponsored by Brecksville Citizens for Transparent Politics.

Pictures of some of those who testified are at 



Rose Petsche - Co-coodinator, Brecksville Citizens for Transparent Politics

How did corporations get the same rights as people?
It all began with a corporate lawyer

The idea that corporations are persons entitled to all the same rights as natural persons was created by the Supreme court.  Former Senator & corporate lawyer roscoe Conkling argued that the 14th amendment is not limited to natural persons.  Conkling produced a journal that he said showed that the legislative committee that drafted the 14th amendment used the term “person” over “citizen” to include corporations.  Historian Howard Jay Graham said “[t]his part of Conkling’s argument was a deliberate, brazen forgery.”

The Supreme Court embraced Conkling’s reading of the 14th Amendment in a headnote to the published opinion of the 1886 case entitled Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Rail Road:  Headnote. A brief summary of a legal rule or a significant fact in a case that… precedes the full text opinion. Later cases would uncritically cite the headnote as if it had been part of the case.

Dissenting in Wheeling Steel Corp in 1949, Justices Douglas and Black thought the question of corporate personhood should be decided by the people, not the Supreme Court. But they could not convince their fellow Justices.

In the 1970s, (1886) Santa Clara was used to justify granting corporations the First Amendment right to spend unlimited corporate funds on ballot initiatives in a 1977 case called First Nat'l Bank of Boston v. Bellotti.  In that case the Court stated “[i]t has been settled for almost a century that corporations are persons within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Justice Rehnquist, in his dissent, questioned the wisdom of extending corporations political rights: “those properties, so beneficial in the economic sphere, pose special dangers in the political sphere.”  Rehnquist could not convince his brethren.
In the 2010 Citizens United case, when the Supreme Court held that political speech is “indispensable to decision making in a democracy, and this is no less true because the speech comes from a corporation,” they cited Bellotti.  Thus, it’s a straight line from 1886-Santa Clara to 1977-Bellotti to 2010 Citizens United case.

The United States may seem like a divided nation, but there are actually plenty of issues that people of all political affiliations agree on. The problem is that our own elected officials don’t often care enough to listen.

If members of Congress were actually representing the people rather than private interests, here’s a list of issues that would be tackled immediately due to massive popular support:

83 percent of Americans want to maintain net neutrality to keep an open and free internet.

Bottom of Form
78 percent of Americans want to see Citizens United overturned, compared to just 17 percent who want to see it stand. For the vast majority of Americans, corporate money does not equal free speech, and they see how this bizarre interpretation of the law is seriously skewing our elections for the worse.

97 percent of Americans who agree that there should be background checks conducted on all gun buyers?

86 percent say education money is best put toward our existing public education system to improve local schools,

79 percent of Americans want DREAMers to be offered a pathway to U.S. citizenship and 83 percent would like to see undocumented immigrants legalized rather than deported.

80 percent of Americans are either bothered a lot or somewhat (most said “a lot”) by corporations not paying their fair share of taxes. 78 percent of Americans had the same feeling about wealthy individuals7. CONGRESSIONAL TERM LIMITS
75 percent of adults indicating that they’d like to see term limits applied to the U.S. House and Senate.

Who bears the cost of this unsettling trend towards undisclosed donors & dark money influencing our decisions, It’s we, the voters. 

Everything that is done at the federal & state level affects US at the local level.
Dirty Air
Dirty Water
Dirty Food

Our voices have been drowned out. 

We cannot wall our city off from what policies are put in effect at the federal & state level.

We need to get out of our houses & take to the streets to protect our right to have our voices heard.  Our children & grandchildren’s futures depend on all of us working to elect people who will overturn Corporate Personhood & the concept that Money = Speech

Jack Petsche - Co-coodinator, Brecksville Citizens for Transparent Politics

I want to talk about what happened with money in politics during the 2018 midterm elections. It has been over 8 years since the Supreme Court decided Citizens United and over 6 years since the Citizens of Brecksville voted to tell our congressional representatives that we want a constitutional amendment to allow us to regulate money in politics, and voted to create Democracy Day so that we can come together as a community on this day to discuss the effect of money in politics on our democracy.
Well it’s official: the 2018 election was the most expensive midterm ever by a large margin, with total spending surpassing $5.7 billion. The 2018 midterm leapfrogs even the then-record breaking 2016 presidential election which saw nearly $5.3 billion in total spending. It also smashes the previous midterm spending record of $3.8 billion in 2014.

With more money to play with than ever before, total candidate spending grew by more than $1 billion over the previous midterm election cycle. Non-party outside spending experienced an even larger percentage increase – 84 percent over 2014- as it ballooned to nearly $1.1 billion.

The most expensive midterm election in U.S. history resulted in several record-breaking individual races. Candidates and groups spent a record $209 million in Florida’s U.S. Senate race, Candidates in the Texas U.S. Senate race spent an unprecedented $125 million and nine of the 10 priciest non-special election House races ever took place in 2018.

Though Democrats lost a few crucial Senate races, they made massive gains in the House thanks in part to an unprecedented $300 million spending advantage, and the candidate with more money usually wins.
In 2018 a Blue Wave of Money helped the democrats crush House Republicans. Democrats outspent Republicans across the board in the 2018 cycle.

10 individual megadonors combined to pour $436 million into the election, displaying the widespread influence of wealthy individuals in the post Citizens United era. Able to give unlimited dollars to super PAC’s, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson gave more than $123 million to help Republicans while Michael Bloomberg threw in $90 million to help Democrats.

It was a banner year of sorts for wealthy self-funders, too. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) poured in more than $63 million of his own money to win his Senate race. Rep. David Trone (D-Md.), Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) and Rep. Gil Cisneros (D-Calif.) all spent more than $9 million of their own money and won.

Undisclosed “dark money” spending from liberal groups totaled $81 million, compared to just $43 million for their conservative counterparts.

Partially-disclosing groups reported more than $391 million to the FEC in 2018 election spending, a record-breaking election cycle for spending by groups that “only disclose some of their donors or dark money sources.
Here’s a few words about women in 2018.

Women ran, women gave, women won.

A record 793 women ran for congress. The previous records were broken for both parties this cycle – the previous records were 247 Democratic women in 2012 and 178 Republican women in 2010.

As women filed for office at a record pace, women also gave more than $514 million in itemized contributions to major party candidates during the midterm. That money was not evenly distributed along party lines. With so many more women running as Democrats than Republicans, the vast majority of those contributions- nearly $383 million- went to Democratic Candidates.

127 women now serve in congress- 106 Democrats and 21 Republicans. That’s a 17 percent increase in the number of women serving in the House, raising the percentage of women serving in congress to 23.6 percent.
Turning to the subject of PAC’s and Super PAC’s, a lot of people are tired of their influence and power and candidates have taken notice.

For 2020 Democratic Presidential hopefuls, rejecting contributions from corporate PAC’s has become a strong litmus test they dare not fail.

In sum, political spending on midterms increased from $3.8 billion in 2014 to 5.7 billion in 2018. Spending in all forms, small contributions, large contributions, PAC’s, Super PAC’s, dark money and spending by rich people on their own campaigns and those of others increased dramatically.

I warned my republican friends a few years ago at one of our last Democracy Days that although PAC, Super Pac and Dark money may be flowing Republicans’ way now the worm may turn. Well, the worm has turned. Democrats raised and spent far more money than republicans in 2018 and the election results reflected that. Given the fact that blue states are far richer than red states, and that urban areas are richer than rural areas, it doesn’t take a genius to predict that the 2018 trend will continue into 2020 and beyond and election results will follow. In 2020, 22 republican senators and only 12 democratic senators will be up for re-election. Since there are no outside money restrictions, I predict massive amounts of blue money will flow to the blue candidates battling those 22 red senate incumbents. If past is prologue, I think we can reasonably predict a Democratic majority in the senate in 2020 just based on political spending trends alone.

But the real issue is this. Is our democracy being taken over by big money? Do individual voters matter far less than big money in politics? Will people get so discouraged that their votes don’t matter in the face of all this money and all the negative attack ads that they will just stop voting? I say let’s keep voting. I ask my republican friends, democrats and independents to join forces, and fight to obtain reasonable regulation of money in politics so that our individual votes do count, and our great democracy survives and thrives far into the future.

Greg Coleridge - Outreach Director, Move to Amend

Happy Democracy Day! Congratulations once more to the citizens of Brecksville for voting for a ballot initiative in 2012 calling on Congress to pass a Constitutional Amendment to end corporate rule and big money in elections by declaring that corporations don’t have constitutional rights and money spent in elections is not equal to political free speech.

Big problems require big solutions. The amendment is a big solution. 

While much deserving attention tonight will be devoted to one piece of this proposed amendment – the impact of money in elections from the super wealthy and corporate entities, it’s not the only fundamental problem this amendment would fundamentally solve. The other problem is corporate rule or governance. Ending all corporate constitutional rights goes beyond corporate influence in elections to corporate power in direct rule making.

Inalienable rights apply to human beings. The Bill of Rights and 14th Amendment affirmed certain rights to human persons, not to corporations.

Corporations aren’t mentioned in the Constitution. Originally, they came into existence when sovereign state legislatures granted charters one at a time with clearly defined functions. Corporate charters were democratic instruments. No voter, citizen, social movement or elected official has ever granted corporations constitutional rights. Rather, it’s been activist Supreme Court Justices taking their cues time and again from corporate attorneys.

So, what’s been the impact of the corporate hijack of the Constitution? It’s been lethal on people, communities and our democratic republic.

Corporations have hijacked 1st Amendment “free speech” rights beyond the right to donate to political elections. The never intended corporate 1st amendment right NOT to speak has, for example, preempted passed laws informing consumers whether or not toxins are in their food. Never intended corporate 1st amendment “religious” rights have prevented women employees from receiving health care coverage because it violated the religious right of the business corporation – not the owners -- but the corporation.

Corporations have hijacked 4th Amendment “search on seizure” rights. The courts have overturned democratically enacted laws and regulations requiring mandatory inspections of corporate property to ensure worker safety or environmental protections. Corporate rights have preempted these community rights to protect workers and the environment.

Corporations have hijacked 5th Amendment “takings” rights. Courts have overturned regulations ensuring the protection of homes, land and communities from a corporate action – claiming that regulations are “takings” and must be compensated. Thus, corporate property rights have preempted personal property rights.

Corporate have hijacked the 14th Amendment due process and equal protection rights – rights that were intended to apply at the end of the civil war solely to freed slaves. Laws passed by local communities that, for example, support local businesses that keep jobs and money recycling in the community over mega chain stores have been overturned by courts as “discriminatory” under the 14th Amendment.

And corporations have hijacked the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. The power of local public officials to protect the health, safety and welfare of residents and the community have by the scores been preempted by corporations claiming that, for instance, toxic waste is commerce and therefore legally permissible to be dumped in a community’s backyard. Efforts by farmers and rural communities in many states against agribusinesses or initiatives that mandate only those who farm the land can own the land have been overturned by the courts as a violation of the Commerce Clause in favor of corporations.

Systemic problems require systemic solutions.

Yet, paradoxically, this amendment is extremely conservative because it advocates returning to a system where questions of money in elections and the relationship between corporations and people are no longer decided in the judicial arena (the courts) but are shifted back to the legislative arena – where they once were decided -- where We the People have greater power. 

It’s no wonder small businesses, family farmers, and local public officials support this amendment and why citizens across the country who have had a chance to vote on these initiatives like you did in Brecksville vote yes – by the hundreds – because it promotes the fundamental democratic right to decide.

Passing a constitutional amendment that not only ends political money defined as free speech but also ends all constitutional rights will help create real democracy. Awareness is spreading, as is the support because our rising fundamental problems require people to rise up for fundamental change.

It’s nice to have a Democracy Day. But I’m for -- and I hope you are as well -- real democracy year round.

Thank you.




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