Corporate Personhood Headed to Ballot in Corvallis, Oregon

February 7, 2012
Bennett Hall

Council refers question on Move to Amend proposal to November election


Corvallis residents will get a chance to weigh in this fall on the debate over corporate personhood and political speech, thanks to a decision by the City Council.

The council voted overwhelmingly on Monday to place an advisory question on the November general election ballot.

The precise text of the question is yet to be worked out, but in essence voters would be asked whether the city should endorse a constitutional amendment that would reverse a 2010 Supreme Court decision that said corporations are persons under the law and thus have certain rights, including the right to free speech.

One effect of the ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was to lift limits on certain types of political spending by corporations, unions and nonprofit organizations. That opened the floodgates for the massive donations flowing into so-called super PACs in this year’s congressional and presidential campaigns.

Monday’s City Council decision came at the request of the local affiliate of Move to Amend, a national organization pushing for a constitutional amendment that would overturn the Citizens United decision.

About a dozen municipalities around the country, including Portland, have either passed resolutions in support of an amendment or taken steps to refer the question to local voters.

“Monied interests now have the ability to monopolize the microphone, drowning out the voices of common citizens,” said Bart Bolger, one of four members of Corvallis Area Move to Amend who addressed the council at Monday’s meeting.

That message resonated strongly with several council members.

Both Joel Hirsch and Biff Traber said they had been thinking about introducing resolutions opposing corporate personhood before being approached by the Move to Amend members.

“That’s where I was heading, because I think this should be addressed,” Traber said.

Councilor Mike Beilstein made the motion to place the advisory question on the ballot.

“It’s important to me, and it’s important to our community,” Beilstein said.

The vote was 7 to 1 in favor of the motion, with Ward 2 Councilor Roen Hogg voting against. Ward 1 Councilor Mark O’Brien was absent from Monday’s meeting.

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