Democracy Day in Mentor and elsewhere probes corporate political gifts

February 7, 2017
Grant Segall

MENTOR, Ohio -- Eleven local cities hold Democracy Days to explore the clout of corporate cash in politics.

The cities hold hearings for residents to testify about the influence of corporate donations since the 2010 Citizens United case when the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 to wipe out the McCain-Feingold restrictions on campaign donations.

Mentor's Democracy Day hearing is at 7 p.m. Wednesday in City Council chambers on the third floor of the Mentor Civic Center, 8500 Civic Center Blvd. Brecksville's hearing will take place from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Feb. 27 at the Human Services Center, 2 Community Dr.

The municipal councils of Cleveland, Bedford Heights and Oakwood have opposed the ruling, and so have voters of Mentor, Kent, Brecksville, Chagrin Falls, Newburgh Heights, Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights, South Euclid, Toledo and Defiance. Cleveland and the 10 cities with voter initiatives require annual or biennial Democracy Day hearings.

Cleveland Heights held its hearing in January. The schedules of other hearings later this year will be posted at municipal websites and at

Writing for the majority in Citizens United, the late Justice Antonin Scalia said corporations have the same right of free speech as private individuals. But all corporations are publicly chartered, even if privately held, and given special privileges, such as personal immunity from business liabilities. So Greg Coleridge says they don't deserve every private right.

"If money is speech, those who have the most money have the most speech. That's not anything approaching a real democracy," says Coleridge, who leads the Northeast Ohio branch of the American Friends Service Committee and the Ohio branch of Move to Amend, an advocacy group trying to overcome Citizens United by amending the U.S. Constitution.

David Bossie, president of the Citizens United group that challenged McCain-Feingold, says on the group's website that the victory "will preserve all Americans' right to free speech... The American people must be free to participate in the political process, and have the freedom to debate the most pressing issues of our time without government restrictions."

But Councilman Marty Gelfand of South Euclid says, "It perverts logic and the rights of people in a free society when corporations get all those rights, and they're not really people. When money can be spent at unlimited levels, it pretty much silences everyone else."

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