TALLMADGE — A majority of city legislators favor recommending an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to abolish the rights of corporations to be protected as persons under the Constitution.
City Council on April 25 voted 4-3 to pass the resolution, which states in part that "only human beings, not corporate entities, have constitutional rights and that political money in elections is not a form of First Amendment-protected ‘free speech.’"
Council members Rebecca Allman (Ward 2), Carol Kilway (Ward 4) and Dennis Loughry (At Large) voted "no."
With this action, Tallmadge joined more than 600 other communities in the U.S. that have taken this position. Some other area cities that have adopted a similar resolution include Cleveland, Barberton, Chagrin Falls and Lakewood.
The passage of the resolutions by these communities is partly in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the case Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission. In that decision, the high court ruled that corporations have First Amendment rights to purchase advertising in all American elections, according to the American Bar Association.
Council discussed and voted on the issue on both April 11 and 25.
On April 11, council deadlocked 3-3 on this resolution. Allman was absent from that meeting. Under council rules, Law Director Megan Raber said that since the measure did not receive the needed four affirmative votes, it would remain on the agenda. It returned to the agenda on April 25, when council approved it. Council member James Donovan (At Large) voted "no" on April 11, but changed his vote to a "yes" on April 25.
During the discussion on April 11, Council member Michael Carano (At Large), who presented the legislation, noted Congress was considering banning the government from offering free online tax filing.
"That is due to the influence of Turbo Tax and H & R Block, through the lobbying that they’ve done," said Carano. "The for-profit tax industry is about to realize one of its long sought goals."
Carano noted the proposed legislation before Congress was "not serving the interests of the public," but was instead serving the interests of corporations.
Since the Citizens United decision in 2010, Carano noted, "what the people want does not always get pushed [forward], but what the moneyed interests want overwhelmingly gets pushed."
An example of this dynamic occurring was fracking, according to Carano.
"The moneyed interests, early on, got ahead of the game, took away local control [and] moved it to the state so that citizens do not have control over their communities," said Carano.
While he thanked Carano for sponsoring the legislation, Loughry said his constituents told him, "they do not think that they gave me the right to make a decision on whether or not they believe we should change the Constitution of the United States."
"They think that that’s why there are senators and House of Representatives [members]," said Loughry.
Kilway noted while she supports the idea behind the resolution, she also said her constituents said they felt her job was to "make sure the city is being run efficiently" rather than pushing for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Kilway told Carano that if he wanted to pursue a state ballot initiative on the issue, she would support such an effort.
Greg Coleridge, outreach director for Move to Amend, an organization engaging in a petition effort to reject the decision of Citizens United and other similar cases, said government leaders in other communities he’s visited have questioned how the issue affects them on a local level. He noted that tobacco corporation leaders were questioned a couple decades about what they knew and when they knew about cigarettes’ connection to cancer. When investigations revealed that they had a "quite a bit" of "pre-knowledge" about tobacco’s impact on health, Coleridge said the corporations "defended themselves by saying that we have a constitutional right not just to speak, but also the constitutional right not to speak."
If a constitutional amendment abolishing the rights of corporations to be protected as persons had been in place, Coleridge said, "the tobacco corporations would not have been able to be shielded with that so-called right [to speak or not to speak]." This would’ve meant that more information about tobacco products’ health impacts would’ve been revealed sooner, and Coleridge said, "We as public officials …might have been able to be more aggressive in passing legislation to prevent that."
Carano on April 25 said he felt it was "wrong" for some of his colleagues to say that the issue was not a local one.
"All of us pay [federal and state] taxes," said Carano, who added that the money which funds programs at the state or federal level can be "influenced" by moneyed interests. "They do affect local government."
Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.