NEWARK — Local organizers want city voters to support a federal constitutional amendment asserting that “corporations are not people and money is not speech.”
One hundred fourteen petitions submitted Monday to the Newark City Council’s clerk are part of a national movement to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission.
That ruling declared that corporations and unions have the same rights as individuals to unrestricted spending on political speech.
Wayne Beemer, of Newark, said his group — originally formed as the 99 percent of Newark and East Central Ohio — has collected slightly fewer than 1,800 signatures since November. The collective is affiliated with Move to Amend, a national coalition of like-minded groups.
Beemer said his group hopes to educate people and support the nationwide effort. Local support could help other Ohio cities put pressure on the state Legislature for action, he said.
The petition contends that the court’s decision severely limits the ability of federal, state and local governments to enact reasonable campaign finance reform and regulate corporate political activity.
The local petition seeks to establish an annual Democracy Day, starting next March, on which the mayor and the council would host a public hearing to examine the local impact of political contributions from corporations, political action committees and super PACs. The mayor, at least one council member and citizens could submit testimony.
Within one week of that hearing, the mayor would be required to send a letter to state and federal Congress members stating that Newark citizens voted in favor of a citizens’ initiative calling for a constitutional amendment declaring that only human beings are legal persons with constitutional rights and money is not equivalent to speech, “and therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech.”
Those annual Democracy Day public hearings would end after ratification of the requested constitutional amendment by 75 percent of the country’s state legislatures.
“It’s a long process,” Beemer said. “Obviously, we’re not going to change the Constitution out of Newark, Ohio.”
Council Clerk Autumn Klein will keep the local petitions in her office for public viewing through 4:30 p.m. July 24, City Law Director Doug Sassen said.
Klein will then submit the documents the following day to the Licking County Board of Elections, which must rule on whether the petitions contain at least 1,303 valid signatures, or 10 percent of the Newark residents who voted in the 2010 gubernatorial race, elections board director Gloria Carson said.
If approved, the board would then create ballot language and submit it to the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office, before returning the language and petitions to the city within 10 days.
Klein would then be required to resubmit the petitions to the board of elections by 4 p.m. Aug. 6 to meet the deadline for the Nov. 4 ballot, Carson said.