South Euclid meeting backs movement stating corporations are not people

May 11, 2017
Jeff Piorkowski

SOUTH EUCLID, Ohio -- About 60 people turned out at city hall Tuesday for South Euclid's first-ever Democracy Day, in which attendees were encouraged to speak about the influence of corporations on the rights of U.S. citizens.

In November, 2016, 77 percent of South Euclid voters favored a charter amendment backing the stance of the non-partisan national organization Move to Amend that the U.S. Supreme Court erred in its 2010 Citizens United ruling that established that corporations are entitled to constitutional rights that individuals enjoy.

South Euclid resident Madelon Watts and a group of volunteers gathered petitions to have the charter amendment put on the local ballot last year. The national goal for Move to Amend is to reverse that 2010 decision so that only people are guaranteed constitutional rights.

The Move to Amend website states its mission as "to amend our Constitution to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights."

Watts formed the local Move to Amend partner South Euclid Citizens for Democracy in an effort to gather local support for the national amendment drive.

"Personally, I saw the corrosive influence of money," Watts said of why she formed the local group. "He who has the gold rules. It makes for an uneven playing field."

According to Move to Amend, the Supreme Court's decision in the 2010 case of Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission "allows unlimited corporate spending to influence campaigns, elections, law making and public policy decisions."

The passage of the South Euclid charter amendment calls for a public hearing to be held every other year to uphold Move to Amend's purpose. Tuesday marked South Euclid's first hearing. In all 13 residents spoke, some with prepared statements, and others extemporaneously.

South Euclid Vietnam War veteran Lorenzo Cain spoke about how lobbyists use corporate money to influence politicians' decisions. As an example, Cain compared politicians taking money from lobbyists to a head of a family taking $1,000 to allow a stranger access to his or her family, possibly to the detriment of the family's safety.

"They're (lobbyists) putting money in the pockets of people who represent us," he said. "Don't forget that."

South Euclid resident Charles Merbitz said, "First, corporations are not people for any purposes envisioned in the Constitution."

Merbitz said incorporating serves to limit liability and accountability for errors.

"There is no way to send a corporation, a fictional entity, to jail, whereas every citizen can be jailed," he said.

In making her statements, Cleveland Heights' Carla Rautenberg asked those in attendance, "How many believe the people rule (in the U.S.)? We should, but do we?"

Also speaking at the podium, which had spelled out on it "End Corporate Personhood," were one of its organizers, Councilman Marty Gelfand, and Mayor Georgine Welo.

"This is bi-partisan," Welo said. "We can work at the local level across the board. This is something that the higher ups (in government) don't understand."

Giving an example of what she sees as corporate intrusion on local municipalities, Welo spoke of how local municipal governments are now banding together as part of a lawsuit to battle Ohio Senate Bill 331, which went into effect on March 21.

Because of that bill, she said, municipalities, have lost significant control over the public right-of-way in that cities and villages must permit, without charge, the placement of communications companies' "small-cells" on municipally-owned structures and right-of-ways. Small cells, as opposed to those located on towers, are being placed on the sides of roads and on existing poles to help with phone and GPS communications.

Watts said that two local Ohio State Representatives, Kent Smith, of Euclid, and Lakewood's Nickie Antonio, have sponsored in Ohio the drive to amend the Constitution. If Ohio joins in, Move to Amend will be a step closer to getting the two-thirds of the states necessary to begin the process of bring about a Constitutional amendment.

"Our goal is (to achieve the amendment) by 2025," Watts said. "The suffragettes took 90 years to get women the right to vote."

In June, 2016, the state of New York became the most recent state to, by bi-partisan vote, elect to call for Congress to pass a Constitutional amendment. It joined 16 other states and 700 cities and counties across the U.S. to do so.

A summary of the South Euclid meeting will be sent to state and federal legislators.

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