COLUMBUS, Ohio - Five years ago, the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling gave corporations the same free-speech rights as individuals to contribute money to political campaigns. Momentum has grown since then in Ohio to end what's known as "corporate personhood."
Newburgh Heights is among six Ohio communities that passed ballot measures asking Congress for a constitutional amendment to confirm that only human beings have constitutional rights, and that money isn't speech. Newburgh Heights Mayor Trevor Elkins said he believes the nation's founding fathers never intended for corporations to have the same rights as people.
"The doctrine of 'money is equivalent to speech' has to go," he said. "It simply is not the case - otherwise, what you're saying is, the more money you have, the more speech you have."
Six public hearings will take place over the next two months across Ohio, as mandated by the citizen ordinances, about what they perceive is the "threat to democracy" posed by the court ruling. The first hearing, slated for Thursday in Cleveland Heights, coincides with today's fifth anniversary of Citizens United.
A recent report on spending in U.S. Senate races by the Brennan Center for Justice found that campaign spending by outside groups has doubled since Citizens United. Sally Hanley, a volunteer for Cleveland Heights' Move to Amend chapter, said that kind of money can influence the decisions of elected leaders.
"We're becoming a 'corporatocracy.' It affects our health care, our environment, our educational system," she said. "Corporations have way too much say in how we live our daily lives."
Elkins said he's convinced that more people are realizing the ways "corporate personhood" can mute the voices of ordinary citizens. When more communities work together and speak up, he said, change can happen.
"Individually, a small community like Newburgh Heights, sure it means something, it says something to my Congressional delegation," he said. "But when the larger communities start to add their voice to that, it begins to resonate more."
Several other Ohio communities are working on similar ballot measures this year or next, including Cleveland, Parma and Toledo.