by Mike Ferner | March 30, 2022
Why are we here today?
The short answer is that in 2014, Toledo’s Move to Amend chapter collected 10,000 signatures, led by the tireless Doug Jambard-Sweet, to place an initiative on the 2015 ballot. It passed overwhelmingly and did two things:
- First, Toledo joined over 600 towns and cities telling Congress to pass an amendment to remove constitutional protections like free speech and equal protection from corporations and rule that money is not the same thing as speech.
- Second, it established Democracy Day in Toledo – something that was a first among cities endorsing the amendment
The longer answer is from a special page in Toledo history.
Our Waite High School was named after a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and Toledo attorney, Morrison R. Waite, appointed by his fellow Ohioan, President Grant.
Just like Amazon and other trillion-dollar corporations of today, after the Civil War, railroads were the Big Kahunas…so much so that a majority of Supreme Court justices were railroad attorneys or directors, including Waite himself.
Flush with war profits, railroads tried repeatedly to win constitutional protections intended for human beings, but state and federal courts swatted them away, insisting that corporations were paper creations of state legislatures and not entitled to any rights beyond those lawmakers wished to extend.
In 1886, Southern Pacific Railroad appealed a taxation decision by Santa Clara County, California, claiming a violation of equal protection under the 14th Amendment. This time Waite and his court agreed, opening the floodgates.
We should note that the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868 to protect the rights of newly freed slaves. But as Justice Hugo Black wrote, 50 years after its adoption, “Of the cases in this court in which the 14th Amendment was applied…less than one half of one percent invoked it in protection of the Negro race, and more than fifty percent asked that its benefits be extended to corporations.” And that, if we needed it, is proof that enough money will buy clever enough attorneys.
After Santa Clara, corporate attorneys won other protections meant for people, such as the 4th Amendment, so they could refuse government demands for documents or OSHA inspectors without a warrant; like the 1st Amendment, as recently as the late 1960’s, early 1970’s and up to Citizens United in 2010, all of which equated money with speech, allowing nearly unlimited corporate influence over elections…to say nothing of the unlimited “free speech accounts” of Raytheon, Boeing and Lockheed-Martin corporation lobbyists who know better than anyone that even losing wars make money.
For decades, battles raged in legislatures and courtrooms to determine if corporations would remain subservient to the public. People expected their public officials to do so and when they did, they generated decisions like this one in a case brought by Ohio’s Attorney General against a company that wanted to put lord-knew-what into margarine and sell it in stores. The Ohio Supreme Court revoked the company’s charter and wrote:
(Monnett vs Capital City Dairy Co.)
"...It could not have been the intent of the general assembly, in enacting laws permitting the formation of corporations, to give them power to override the state...The time has not yet arrived when the created is greater than the creator....In the present case the acts of the defendant have been persistent, defiant and flagrant, and no other course is left to the court than to enter a judgment of ouster (of the company charter) and to appoint trustees to wind up the business of the concern."
In a local example from 1992, Toledo City Council placed proposed charter revisions on the ballot to establish districts and eliminate the city manager position. From where you’re sitting, I also proposed a limitation on campaign contributions, and received my first lesson on the Buckley v Valeo decision that struck down the ability of government to do that.
Corporations use constitutional protections to force local governments to accept toxic waste dumps or big box chain stores, or the transport of radioactive waste, or to deny the 60% of Toledo voters who approved the Lake Erie Bill of Rights. Law Director Dale Emch could give you many more examples of what’s politely called federal preemption.
By the mid-90’s, a few environmental activists realized we were getting nowhere fast. We might win a limited victory over some single harm, but corporations’ power never lessened. Their political power increased with their economic power.
We needed to think and organize differently. The regulatory agencies set up through the 20th century were there to regulate citizens, not corporations.
So, we decided to learn how corporations came to rule. Led by a visionary researcher and activist, Richard Grossman, a number of us formed the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy.
That spun off the Community Environmental and Legal Defense Fund, which began by organizing against a Pennsylvania hog feeding factory – not on narrow EPA or zoning regulations, but by asserting a township’s right to determine what kind of industry it would accept. That led to international organizing for the rights of nature which continues to this day.
Also spun off of Grossman’s work was Move to Amend, which brings us to today’s hearing.
Move to Amend’s goal – to strip corporations of constitutional protections and rule that money is not speech is now House Joint Resolution 48, with ninety co-sponsors in the U.S. house, including Marcy Kaptur and Cleveland’s Tim Ryan.
Today, we celebrate the opportunity voters created to learn from history, discuss what corporate rule means today and think about how we can use the power of democracy to create the kind of life we and the planet deserve while there’s still time.