BRECKSVILLE - The Brecksville Citizens for Transparent Politics held a public hearing at the Brecksville Library Oct. 17 in hopes of educating residents about Issue 25 and to open the floor to the public for questions and comments.
A presentation of a video entitled "The Story of Citizens United v. FEC" preceded presentations by Attorneys Dave Witt, Bob Belovich and Jack Petsche, Newburgh Heights Mayor Trevor Elkins and activist Greg Coleridge.
The video represented the viewpoint that corporations have too much influence on the democratic process due to the fact that there is no limit on how much money they can contribute to a candidate's campaign.
PowerPoint presentations, presented by the speakers, explained the language behind Issue 25 as well as the reasons they support the cause of creating a constitutional amendment to undo the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case that declared corporations are people and money is a form of speech.
“Our founding fathers envisioned broad citizen participation in this (process of proposing constitutional amendments),” said Jack Petsche. “When they wrote ‘We the people,’ they never intended that to include corporations.”
Residents attending the meeting took the opportunity to ask questions about the issue and its language.
Issue 25 is steeped in controversy as it seeks to create an ordinance requiring the city to dub one day in February “Democracy Day” every two years and hold a public hearing for residents to share their thoughts about political donations by corporations, PACS, super PACs and unions and the influence they have on political campaigns.
It then requires Mayor Jerry Hruby to send letters to state and federal officials stating that the people of Brecksville believe that corporations not people and money is not speech, echoing the main subject of the Move to Amend Movement, which seeks to create a constitutional amendment to enact that into law. The letter does not include a transcript of what was said at the Democracy Day public hearing.
“To me, it’s exciting to have an opportunity to shine the spotlight I don’t think people really know,” Witt said. “It’s important to remember though, this isn’t to call anybody out or call anybody a crook or anything like that.”
Elkins, whose city is attempting to pass a very similar issue, said that while he supports Issue 25 and all it seeks to accomplish and ultimately feels that it is, in fact, non-partisan, Elkins said that there is a break along party lines with democrats offering much more support for Issue 25 and the Move to Amend Movement than republicans.
While that is true, Rose Petsche pointed out that one of the most high-profile opponents of the Citizens United rulling is Sen. John McCain because he believes the amendment it proposes could stop foreign money from coming into political campaigns.
McCain called the Citizens United decision “the most misguided, naive, uninformed, egregious decision of the United States Supreme Court in the 21st Century.”
Rose Petsche, who co-authored the initiative petition with her husband Jack, stressed how important it is to them that people are educated about the issue before they go to cast their vote.
The prospect that many residents may not be sufficiently informed about Issue 25 is one that deeply concerns Steve Sweetnich, a Brecksville resident and owner of a small business called Audio Visions.
“It’s not something you do lightly,” Sweetnich said. “I’ll bet you could talk to nine at out of 10 and they wouldn’t be able to tell you they really understand the issue.”
Sweetnich wrote a Letter to the Editor that ran in the Oct. 18 Issue of the Sun Star-Courier expressing his concern that the issue needs more dialogue to inform residents before it is voted on. It also states his feeling that the slogan attached to the issue, “Keep Democracy Alive,” is misleading as he feels it really seeks to limit free speech.
Many of the concerns that Sweetnich said he has echo those posed by Hruby, who also opposes Issue 25.
Hruby’s opposition is not based so much on the fact that it seeks to advocate for a constitutional amendment but more so on the fact that it proposes using the city’s government in a way it was never intended to be used.
Sweetnich started the website brecksvillefreespeech.info which specifically names Hruby’s opposition to Issue 25 as a reason Sweetnich believes residents should think twice before supporting it.
“This is the guy who’s the prototypical mayor,” Sweetnich said. “I think Brecksville has really prospered under his leadership. When a guy like that says ‘hey, maybe this is not a good idea,’ then maybe we should listen to him.”
“It doesn’t seem like something the city should be involved in,” Sweetnich said. He said he believes the law, if adopted, could be a harmful misuse of the city’s government, despite the fact Secretary of State John Husted and the Ohio Supreme Court ruled it is not, that would burden it with being the voice for a movement to change legislation that is out of its control and could breed animosity between residents on both sides of the issue.
Sweetnich also agrees with the mayor’s fear that such a law could “open up a can of worms” that would encourage virtually any special interest group try and pass a similar ordinance.
Rose Petsche said in an Oct. 10 interview, "This is completely different from an issue such as, say, gay rights or abortion or something like that. It effects politics and government officials."
Sweetnich said he doesn’t know whether he necessarily agrees with the notion that money is not speech. He is more concerned with the impact Issue 25 would have on the city and that all organizations (corporations, unions, etc.) have the same set of rights equal to one another, which he fears wouldn’t be the case it stands right now.
He believes by limiting the amount of money they can donate to campaigns, he feels the government would be limiting their right to free speech.
Contact Rozboril at (216) 986-6065
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