DEMOCRACY PUBLIC HEARING: Cleveland Heights City Council

February 4, 2015

 

 SELECTED TESTIMONY AT "DEMOCRACY PUBLIC HEARING"


Cleveland Heights City Council, January 22, 2015

 

 

15 people testified on a range of issues. Below is some of that testimony.

 

CARLA RAUTENBERG

 

Yesterday was the 5th Anniversary of the Citizens United decision. That day simply made evident to the world what a few thoughtful people already knew: that the ill-considered doctrines of Corporate Personhood and Money as Speech already enshrined in American law were endangering and could eventually eclipse the Constitutional rights of American citizens.

Everyone here tonight already knows how Cleveland Heights voters responded to this threat to our democracy. On behalf of Cleveland Heights Move to Amend, I would like to update Council and our fellow citizens about activities around the state and nationally. In the last five years, Ohio Move to Amend has grown from a few people meeting at Peace House in University Circle into a statewide organization with affiliated groups in 15 communities, and groups starting up in 10 more.

We have gotten the Move to Amend, calling for a Constitutional amendment banning corporate personhood and money as speech, and establishing local public hearings such as this one, on the ballot in 6 Ohio cities: Brecksville, Newburgh Heights, Cleveland Heights, Defiance, Chagrin Falls and Mentor. The ordinances passed easily in all six communities.

Furthermore, the city councils of six additional Ohio communities have passed resolutions fully supporting the Move to Amend, and the city councils of Akron and Cleveland Heights have passed resolutions partially in support.

In 2015, the issue could be on the ballot in as many as five Ohio cities, with more coming onboard in 2016. The third annual statewide gathering of Ohio Move to Amend will be March 28 in Columbus – please join us!

Of course, the Move to Amend is growing nationally as well. In November, there were initiatives on the ballot in two dozen communities across the country. In all, more than 600 resolutions and ballot initiatives have passed.

And this may be unique: once it has made it to the ballot, this issue has never failed. Not one time. 

So, most American voters know that corporate personhood and money-as-speech will ultimately destroy democracy. But even so, three significant events during 2014 served to remind us.

The McCutcheon decision increased aggregate contribution quote-unquote “limits” on multiple Congressional races to the obscene level of $2.4 million per individual every two years.

With its Hobby Lobby decision, the Supreme Court said that Hobby Lobby’s “religious beliefs” mean that it needn’t provide employees with access to birth control as mandated by the Affordable Care Act. The P.D.’s Sheryl Harris noted : “Your craft store is more pious than you are.”

And finally, at the very end of the year, the federal budget bill passed by Congress included an increase of 800% on the limits to individual contributions to political parties, from $97,000 to $776,000 per contributor. They just couldn’t help themselves… or rather, they did.

So this is our system. And it is up to us, as Americans, to change it. Thank you, Council members and fellow citizens, for being here tonight, and for “being the change” you want to see.

 

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SALLY HANLEY

 

We hear two things about CC: one that there's scientific concensus that it's occuring and that human activity is largely the cause,

and two, that it's a hoax, and the data is not clear. So I wanted to know how we know that there's sci. concensus. I “binged” scientific concensus on CC, and there was a lot of material. I'll summarize what I found out on the NASA site. It stated that 97% of climate scientists agree the climate is warming and very likely to do with human activity. They quoted a statement from a report written by 18 scientific associations that said “Observations thruout the world indicate the climate is changing and rigorous sci research demonstrates that greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver.” Some of the 18 associations that wrote this report included the American Chem, A. Meteorological, the AMA, The Geo Society, just to give you the picture of the wide range of scientists that are part of the concensus. There was also the big report that came out last year from the UN Governmental Panel of CC that said “warming is unequivocal and it's extremely likely that human influence has been dominate cause since 1950.”

So, we know that climate change is happening, and with it comes many drastic results. So we're in high gear to deal with this, right? No, we're not, or not nearly enough. But our elected officials are certainly trying their best, right? No, wrong again. While according to a Common Cause report, Whose Government? Whose Voice? 2 out of 3 people believe in global warming and want emission controls but a large portion of the US Congress are climate change deniers, including, according to this report, 9 of 10 Republican members.

According to a report titled “How Big Bus is Funding Climate Change Denial in the 113th Congress and Why it Should Stop,” climate deniers rec'd $100M. In campaign contributions from special interests. These were midterm elections, and this $100 M doesn't even include all the so-called “dark” money from special interests that don't have to report their donors. Report mentions that 160 Congresspersons are in a Climate Denier Caucus. I'll quote a few of the members who received large donations:

Darrell Issa said “there's a wide range of opinions and no agreement ...”

Dave Kamp “there remains a great deal of uncertainty”

Cathy McMorris Rodgers “Gore gets an F in science,”

Clearly, these people are either ignorant of what the vast majority of scientists say, or willfully ignoring them.

Koch Pledge Tied to Congressional Climate Inaction, from the New Yorker in 2013 Koch Industries is a multinational corporation in refining and distribution of oil, chemicals, energy, minerals, fertilizers. The EPA reported in 2011 Koch industries emitted over 24M tons of CO2, the equivalent of 5M cars. According to a report I cited above, the K. brothers alone spent $6.4M in the 2014 elections. Probably not coincidentally, they got 411 elected officials nationwide to sign a pledge to vote against legislation related to climate change unless there's an equal amount of tax cuts. This would be practically impossible because some of the solutions to mitigating climate change are going to require that money be spent. These 411 office holders were at the federal, state, and even local levels. 1/3 of the US House and 1Ž4 of the Senate have signed.

 

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STEWART ROBINSON

 

When Maureen O'Neil became Chief Code Official and Neighborhood Improvement Coordinator in Youngstown a few years ago, she noted that many homes were blighted and in desperate need of repair. She and her staff found that in many cases, the former owners were behind in their mortgage payments and were evicted by their lenders who failed to complete the foreclosure forms. These were referred to as Zombie Foreclosures. Thus, the city assumed the vacant parcels were still the property of the former owners. The city had to perform basic maintenance, such as lawnmowing, snow shoveling and minor structural repairs, which on a city wide basis cost the municipality appproximately $100,000 per year.

As a solution, the city enacted legislation that required lenders, at the moment the house became vacant, or if it was already vacant, to purchase a $10,000 bond. If the lender maintained the property until it was once again inhabited, the city would return the funds. And if the city incurred expenses maintaining the property until it was sold, this amount would be deducted from the return.

The success of this law encouraged other cities, including Warren, Canton and Poughkeepsie NY, to enact similar laws. If Cleveland Hts does not yet have such a law on its books, it should do so quickly. Besides the maintenance savings, this law will benefit the city in that it will encourage lenders to lower their predatory loan rates.

 

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ANNE CARUSO

 

January 22, 2015 Testimony given before the Cleveland Heights City Council regarding Money in Politics

My Testimony today is not on the 2014 election but it is on Ohio legislation that was passed in 2014.

In 2008 the Ohio legislature, with a nearly unanimous vote (only one vote against), passed SB 221, the renewable energy and conservation standards law. These standards were very conservative and called for gradual increases in renewable energy usage and energy conservation. The law called for only twelve and a half percent of our energy coming from renewable sources by 2025 and for the reduction of energy consumption by twenty two percent by 2025.

In the 5 years since these standards were put in place renewable energy generated in Ohio increased from less than 9MW in 2007 to 429 MW of wind and 95MW of installed solar capacity by 2014. These standards created more than 25,000 jobs in energy conservation and renewable energy and supported 400 new Ohio businesses. They also saved Ohio energy consumers $1Billion in energy costs. In addition, these standards resulted in taking more than 9,000 tons of nitrogen oxides and 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide emissions out of our air each year translating to cleaner air and less pollution related illnesses.

Despite the economic and health benefits of these standards, the Ohio legislature introduced a bill, SB 310, in 2014 to freeze them and form a commission to study whether they are needed. What happened to make a bill that was overwhelmingly supported in 2008 and which proved to be an economic and health success to be attacked by the legislature? We can’t say for certain but it is important to know that employees and PACs of the 4 Ohio utilities contributed nearly $2.7 to Ohio legislators since the standards were put in place. The legislators who introduced the law to freeze the standards had Ohio utilities among their top contributors. 

Business groups like The Ohio Manufacturers Association, consumer groups, environmental groups, most of Ohio’s newspapers (including the Plain Dealer), a coalition of religious groups and an overwhelming number of calls, emails and letters to legislators and the Governor all called for the standards to be kept in place and for SB 310 to be defeated. Yet SB 310 was signed into law on June 13, 2014. The loudest voice in favor of this law was from Ohio’s utilities. Since the law was passed the comission has been appointed that will investigate the merit of Ohio’s renewable energy and conservation standards. Of the 12 people appointed to the commission all but 3 voted for SB 310.

 

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GREG COLERIDGE

 

Princeton and Northwestern university researchers in a study published this past September concluded, after extensive analysis of 1,779 policy issues from 1981-2002, that the U.S. is in fact an oligarchy and not a democracy. The study, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” states “Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance,” however “majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts.” “'When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.”

This was 8 years before the Citizens United vs FEC decision; 12 years before the McCutcheon vs FEC Supreme Court decision eliminating aggregate contribution limits by individuals and 12 years prior to congressional action upping contribution limits 800% by individuals to political parties.

Political contributions in the 2014 mid-term elections followed the long standing trend of being greater than all preceding mid-terms. What was different was that for the first time while the total contribution amount increased, the total number of contributors decreased.

“Democracy” at the federal and state levels is an illusion

The problems associated with this reality not only affect us (citizens) but you (local elected officials). State budget cuts to municipalities like Cleveland Heights make your jobs much more difficult. Reasons for these budget cuts include political pressure from corporations (which benefit from austerity in the form of privatization/corporatization of public services) and political contributions from wealthy individuals who don’t like to pay taxes.

There is, however, good news. Awareness is rising of the connection between problems and that fundamental change can only happen through mass social movements.

Changing players (elections) or plays (laws and regulations) of the game isn’t enough. We must change the rules of the game.

We wish there was an easier way to bring change than through a constitutional amendment. Other nations that supposedly have inferior democracies to ours in Europe and elsewhere have national referendums. We don’t.

We’re doing our part at the grassroots to amend the constitution to end corporate personhood and money as speech. You, as elected officials, aren’t completely in the grass on the outside. Some of you are in the lobby or on the porch.

We ask that you do your part to educate and advocate for Move to Amend to your peers in other communities in Cuyahoga County where MTA campaigns are underway: Shaker Hts., S. Euclid, Lyndhurst, Cleveland, Berea and Parma. Also to County Council. And to our state and federal elected officials when you see them.

We need friends inside the political system to advocate for change, but this is no substitute for what must be mass grassroots social movements, which are ultimately the only way we can recapture our nation.

 

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DEAN SIECK

 

We gather tonight as a group of concerned citizens who believe that we have power. Indeed, that is why this city like many others passed Move to Amend so overwhelmingly. The U.S. Constitution grants citizens the right to self-government expressed through representative democracy in our three branches of government.

But citizens’ desires may affect corporate profits, and that is the basic issue I am here to address. What if our government gave up its/our right to make laws that protect and benefit “we the people?” Worse yet, what if the new government that assumed that right to make the laws that affect us all were a group of corporations with one objective only: maximizing their profit?

That is the issue at stake in multi-national trade agreements—such as the Trans Pacific Partnership or TPP.

As a means of maximizing corporate power, trade agreements create governing bodies that override laws passed by nations. A process established by the World Trade Organization has the power to demand compensation from taxpayers of any nation that deprives any other member nation of (quote)“expected future profits.” A complaining corporation need only request that its government sue for such grievance. The suit can target any law at any level, local, state, or national, and the complainant need show only that such law might deprive the corporation of profits.

These suits are not held in courts of law or before judges of any nation. They are held in private tribunals where three attorneys unaccountable to any electorate render their final decisions behind closed doors. The only parties who can initiate challenges are corporations, and no redress is allowed by others who may be affected such as workers or small business owners. A defendant country found guilty is expected to rewrite or nullify the law.

Right now, hundreds of multi-national corporations from various countries are seeking redress through such processes. For example, this process has been used to place in jeopardy a law passed in the U.S. that requires meat sold here to identify its country of origin because meat packers in Canada and Mexico brought suit.

Such processes as this will be employed through the Trans Pacific Partnership. The TPP would create an unprecedented power grab by corporations over the people of fourteen nations that border the Pacific Ocean, including the U.S.

Regrettably, President Obama is convinced of the TPP’s merit, and it will thus be sold to the Congress and the American people as, what else, a “jobs bill.” However, of the 29 chapters in the TPP, only five of them concern trade. The other twenty-four detail just how the corporate cabal will be freed of any accountability to the citizens of any of its member nations. The potential results of this agreement will be disastrous for citizens and will include the following: striking down any programs that favor local or national producers, setting a low bar for labor and environmental policies, extending patent monopolies for drugs produced by pharmaceutical makers which will result in continued and expanded high prices, and of course, permitting big banks to operate at will with the taxpayers holding the bag for any future failures.

Through the six-year process that created this behemoth, our lawmakers have been denied access to any of the proceedings until last June. Only corporations and their agents have been permitted involvement in the process.

But WE the People can stop this madness. Soon President Obama will ask for something called Fast Track authority which would permit him to act alone on behalf of the Congress and you and me. He must not get it. I urge you to become educated about the TPP. Go online, use the resources provided by Public Citizen, Citizentrade.org or the Communication Workers of America. One county in Wisconsin has already become a TPP-Free Zone.

Thirty years ago, I helped Cleveland Heights become a Nuclear Free zone. This threat is every bit as dire.

 

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VALERIE COUNTWAY ROBINSON

 

In writing this I have relied on an article by Paul Bucheit, published by Common Dreams:  “Cheating the Schoolkids: Corporations Don’t Pay Their State Taxes, Either.”  

The topic of corporate tax avoidance usually focusses on the nonpayment of federal taxes. But state taxes, which to a much greater degree fund K-12 education, are avoided by corporations to a stunning extent.  As a result, public school funding continues to be cut, and the declining performance of afflicted public school systems prompts the trend to privatization.  Inner city schools in particular have been destroyed by this phenomenon.

Pointing to the fact that this nonpayment is chronic, a 2011 report by “Citizens for Tax Justice” (CTJ) showed that corporations pay less than half of their required state taxes, which in addition to providing funding for K-!2 schools also contribute to pension funds.  Another report “The Disappearing Corporate Tax Base” found that the percentage of corporate profits paid as state income taxes has dropped from around 7 percent in 1980 to about 3 percent today.

Another report found an even worse situation. Our nations largest corporations pay only about a third, or 2.4%, of the required tax, based on an average maximum state tax rate of 7.3%.

Cuts in education are the result of the decline in state tax money and the corporations are guilty. They starve the public schools by demanding tax breaks..  Corporations are known to play one state against another, threatening to leave for the one providing the best break.

Here is one example of an attempt to recoup losses.  In Pennsylvania, which according to the CTJ report received less than a third of its required state taxes, parents and schools sued the state for failing to provide the resources required for public education.

Below is a rundown of corporations headquartered in Ohio.  This information is from “Corporate Tax Dodging in the Fifty States, 2008-2010” , a 2011 report released by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, (ITEP).   A three year tax rate from 2008 to 2010 is shown for each corporation, compared to an average state corporate tax rate put at 6.2%.

American Electric Power, Columbus, OH                                                                        -1.7%

American Electric Power, AEP, ranks among the nation’s biggest

generators of electricity.  In December 2011, the non-partisan group, 

“Public Campaign”, criticized AEP for spending $28.85 million on lobbying and 

not paying taxes, 2008-2010, instead getting $540 million in tax rebates.  The 

AEP director of environmental policy, served as co-chair of the ALEC energy task force, which in 2012 adopted model legislation entitled “Electricity Freedom  Act”, designed to repeal state level mandates requiring electricity  utilities to produce some of their electricity from renewable sources.  (from Wikipedia)

Cliffs Natural Resources, Cleveland (formerly Cleveland Cliffs)                        0,6%

American Financial Group, Cincinnati                                                                        0.7%

American Financial Group, AFG, dealing in insurance and investments, was 

one of the first publicly traded Fortune 500 companies to make large 

political donations after corporation freedom of speech rights were expanded

to include donations as a result of the Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission decision. (from Wikipedia)

Macy’s, Cincinnati                                                                                                1.3%

J.M. Smuckers, Orrville, OH                                                                                    2.1%

In 2012, Smuckers contributed to an organization set up to oppose a citizen’s initiative, Proposition 37 that demanded mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients.  (Wikipedia)              

Limited Brands, Columbus                                                                                    2.8%

Limited Brands or L Brands is a Fortune 500  fashion company, owning Victoria’s Secret 

FirstEnergy, Akron, OH                                                                                                2.9%

FirstEnergy’s electric generation is primarily from coal and nuclear power plants.  It operates Beaver Valley, Davis-Besse, and Perry nuclear plants. There were recent Public Utility Commission, PUCO, hearings (January, 2015) on FirstEnergy’s proposal to raise rates on consumers to pay for repairs on the aging Davis-Besse plant. (Wikipedia)

Proctor & Gamble, Cincinnati                                                                                    3.1%

In 2011 Proctor & Gamble was fined by the European Commission for

establishing a price fixing cartel along with Unilever. (Wikipedia)

Sherwin- Williams, Cleveland                                                                                    3.1%

In January 2014, the Santa Clara County Superior Court ruled that Sherwin-Williams,

 along with ConAgra, was liable for $1.5 billion to be paid to a lead paint 

abatement fund to be used to remove lead paint from older housing.  The judge

ruled that the paint companies manufactured , marketed, and sold lead paint 

without disclosing the health risks to the consumers in spite of “actual and

constructive knowledge that it was harmful.”  As per their 2013 annual report, S-W considers the case to be without merit and will appeal its decision. (lWikipedia)                                                                                   

Kroger, Cincinnati                                                                                                3.3%

Big Lots, Columbus                                                                                                3.8%

Cardinal Health, Dublin, OH                                                                                    4.0%

Cardinal Health, a Fortune 500 company, specializes in the distribution of

 pharmaceuticals and medical products.  In 2008 Cardinal Health agreed to pay 

$34 million in civil penalties to settle a Drug Enforcement Administration allegation that it failed to report suspicious orders of hydrocodone, a potent pain killer.  (Wikipedia)

Parker Hannifin, Mayfield Heights OH                                                                        4.8%

 

Perhaps a movement to get these corporations to pay their taxes to Ohio is in order, for the betterment of our schools and our pension funds.

 

 

 

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