City ballot to address businesses’ personhood

December 28, 2015
Tom Troy

One of the many candidates and issues that will be on Toledo’s ballot March 15 will be whether Toledo voters believe corporations have the same rights as individuals.

The Toledo chapter of the national group Move to Amend successfully circulated petitions to get a question on the March 15 ballot seeking passage of an ordinance making Toledo officially in favor of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It states that corporations aren’t people and can’t be protected from campaign-finance restrictions.

Move to Amend, a progressive organization that claims about 380,000 members and successful initiatives in more than 600 municipalities, seeks to reverse the 2010 Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The group’s goal is to deny corporations the same protections as citizens, according to Mike Ferner, former Toledo councilman, unsuccessful 2015 mayoral candidate, and a member of the group that collected signatures to get the amendment on the ballot.

“Move to Amend is not just concerned about Citizens United, but with the whole question of constitutional personhood and personhood rights for corporations,” Mr. Ferner said. “The key idea with Move to Amend is to take away constitutional protections for corporations so that federal, state, and local legislation can be passed that would regulate corporations, however people want to do that.”

He said corporations have gained constitutional rights through a series of decisions starting in an 1886 case presided over by Toledo’s own Morrison Waite, who was chief justice.

The proposed constitutional amendment states 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.

What qualifies the proposal as an ordinance is that it can be approved as a ballot question. Council and the mayor would be mandated to do something: Hold an annual public hearing to be called “Democracy Day.”

Democracy Day would be held each year in March to “examine the impact of political contributions of corporations, unions, PACs and Super-PACs on the City, as well as other issues that arise from the Supreme Court’s decisions to give corporations the rights of real persons.”

Under the ordinance, the mayor and council may submit testimony at the hearing, and citizens would be able to submit oral and written testimony.

Within two weeks after Democracy Day, the mayor would then have to send letters to Toledo’s representatives in Congress and the Ohio General Assembly. The mayor would summarize the main issues raised at the hearing and state that the citizens of Toledo voted in support of a citizens’ initiative calling for a constitutional amendment.

The annual public hearings would cease if and when a pertinent amendment passes.

The Move to Amend ballot question so far has attracted no formal opposition. Republican City Councilman Tom Waniewski said he does not support the amendment, though he has no plans to actively oppose it.

“An attack on corporations is an attack on business. I wish we would get away from that. We should treat them a little better, in my opinion,” Mr. Waniewski said.

He said people have their minds on more immediate concerns, such as the other question on the city’s March 15 ballot — to raise Toledo’s temporary 0.75-percent income tax to 1 percent.

Citizen initiatives in support of ending corporate personhood have passed in 49 cities, including Defiance, Cleveland Heights, Brecksville, and Mentor in Ohio.

Contact Tom Troy: tomtroy [at] or 419-724-6058 or on Twitter @TomFTroy.

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