SOUTH EUCLID, Ohio -- Democracy Day was observed Thursday (May 2) in South Euclid, as people from several communities gathered at City Hall to center on the themes that corporations are not people and that corporations have too large an influence on today’s elections and lawmaking.
In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in the case Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission that corporations are entitled to the same constitutional rights and protections as natural persons.
Those who gathered Thursday believe the decision restricts the ability of federal, state and local governments to enact reasonable campaign finance reforms and regulations regarding corporate political activity.
“Hence, this decision supported the increasing amounts of money being spent by corporations to influence election results and legislation at federal, state and local levels,” said South Euclid Mayor Georgine Welo, the first of 14 people to speak at the Move to Amend, non-partisan event.
In November 2016, South Euclid voters joined a list of communities in Ohio -- including Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights, Lorain, Lyndhurst and Mentor -- as well as about 800 others throughout the country and 19 states, in seeking change.
Seventy-seven percent of South Euclid voters approved Issue 201 in 2016, which called for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution declaring that only human beings, not corporations, are legal persons with constitutional rights; and that money is not equivalent to speech, and therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech.
“Until a constitutional amendment is ratified reflecting the principles listed above,” Welo said, “South Euclid will continue to hold a public meeting (a Democracy Day) every two years where our citizens will have an opportunity to speak on the impact that uncontrolled political contributions have on local governments.”
Thursday marked the second such meeting held in South Euclid since the 2016 passage.
“After each public hearing, a letter will be sent to key elected leaders of our state and federal government, including a reminder that in 2016 the citizens of South Euclid voted in support of this constitutional amendment,” Welo said.
As was the case in 2017, South Euclid resident Madelon Watts organized the event. Watts has also worked in other Ohio communities to forward the cause.
Speakers included interested parties from across Northeast Ohio. Tish O’Dell, of Broadview Heights, said that corporate influence is present when many of our country’s laws are written.
“We’re following, very obediently, laws written by corporations,” O’Dell said. “That’s got to change.”
Ward 3 Councilwoman Sara Continenza took to the podium, which had on it logos of corporations such as Exxon, McDonald’s and GE under the statement “End Corporate Personhood."
“I recently read an article that Amazon paid zero dollars in taxes to our federal government -- zero,” Continenza said. "Yet, they have over $10 billion in profits. Meanwhile, we have someone working 40-plus hours a week at minimum wage with a family paying more taxes than that.
“So we have to really think where we cast our votes, and every dollar we spend is a vote we cast.” She urged shopping at mom-and-pop stores and curbing urges to always shop online.
Brecksville’s Jack Petsche spoke of how the costs of elections have been on the increase in the eight years since the Supreme Court decision.
“The 2018 election was the most expensive midterm ever by a large margin, with total spending surpassing $5.7 billion,” he said. That cost exceeded the 2016 presidential election, in which $5.3 billion was spent.
“In 2018,” Petsche said, "a blue wave of money helped Democrats crush House Republicans. Democrats outspent Republicans across the board in the 2018 cycle.
“Ten individual mega-donors combined to pour $436 million into the election, displaying the widespread influence of wealthy individuals in the post-Citizens United era.”
He concluded by saying, “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.”
The event attracted Shaker Heights High School students Lauren Sheperd, a sophomore, and senior Christos Ioannou, who spoke about the harsh realities of school shootings, as well as Suzanne DeGatano, owner of Mac’s Backs bookstore on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights.
Ioannou said of firearms in society, “This is not just a gun issue, it’s an empathy issue." He said that politicians are "dehumanizing human beings.”
DeGatano said of her bookstore and the online competition it faces, “I feel we can compete with online sellers. We’re in touch with the community.”
Cleveland Heights residents Carla Rautenberg and David Berenson took a different approach to attempt to show the absurdity of the Supreme Court ruling by performing a pair of skits.
In one, Rautenberg played a driver and Berenson a judge in a skit based on an actual California case in which a woman was cited for driving alone in the carpool lane. She answers the charge by saying that the photograph in her car that day of a corporate charter was her passenger that day. Like in the skit, Rautenberg said the person in California had her case dismissed.
Watts said anyone wishing to join the Cleveland East Move to Amend affiliate and help pass a 28th Constitutional Amendment can do so by visiting movetoamend.org/oh-cleveland-east, or Facebook.com/movetoamendclevelandheights.
- Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission
- Community Rights
- Constitutional Amendment
- Corporate Culture
- Corporate Personhood/Corporate Constitutional Rights
- Corporate Rule
- Democracy Movement
- Local Democracy
- Money as Free Speech
- Move to Amend Resolution
- Supreme Court
- Understanding the Corporation