Citizens Asks Local Officials To Reject Corporate Personhood
When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned sections of the McCain-Feingold campaign financing law with its decision in Citizens United v. FEC, many observers said that the decision would usher in a new era in American politics, along with a new understanding of American liberties.
Namely, that corporations are people and that money is speech.
Now, city councils in a few Connecticut cities and towns are saying they don’t agree.
This week, similar resolutions were making their way through councils or board of aldermen in Hartford, Middletown, New Haven, and New London.
While the resolutions vary from city-to-city, all call for the rejection of corporate personhood.
Hartford’s City Council voted on it last week, calling for a constitutional amendment at the federal level to say that corporations are not people.
Hartford Councilman Luis Cotto, who wrote the resolution, said that he hoped the city’s resolution would put pressure on the Connecticut congressional delegation to act.
“We are the capital of the state of Connecticut. We represent 125,000 people,” he said, adding that while he knows a constitutional amendment is a rare phenomenon, he hopes to build momentum regardless.
Last Wednesday the resolution passed with eight votes of support, no votes against, and one abstention by Hartford City Council President Shawn Wooden.
In New London, the city council decided to send a similar resolution back to committee Monday before allowing a vote by the full council.
Rich Swanson, a former New London resident who now lives in Waterford, was on hand to watch the vote. He said that he had been supporting the movement since watching the flood of private money pour into all types of elections since the Supreme Court decision.
For Swanson, the most egregious example that moved him to act was a Denver School Board election this past fall. Swanson said it shocked him that there was hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the election for volunteer, unpaid positions. According to news reports an oil and gas investment executive even got involved in backing one of the pro-charter, anti-union candidates.
Swanson, who works in graphic design, began by putting a petition on the website change.org in April, and has been active in Occupy New London activities over the past several months.
For Swanson, it was the Republican-supporting billionaire Koch Brothers who were the worst offenders of injecting money in politics, but that President Barack Obama had plenty of blame to share.
“I can’t be too partisan on this,” Swanson said.
“It’s so counter to what I think this country was founded on and should believe. It’s crazy,” he said.
An hour north on Route 9 in Middletown, Peter Hildebrand and John Paganetti have become regulars at the city council meetings, campaigning for their own version of the resolution.
They said they have been collecting signatures for more than two months, and in early May had gotten about 150 throughout Middletown.
While their resolution didn’t specifically mention it, the Citizens United decision was again the motivating factor for them.
“What we’d really like to see is that unlimited contributions be restrained and regulated,” Paganetti said.
The resolution came before the council on May 7, but was tabled for further study and a possible rewrite after former Republican Mayor Sebastian Giuliano said that he felt the resolution was beyond the purview of the council during public comment.
Middletown’s resolution had been jointly brought forward by Councilman Todd Berch, a Democrat, and Phil Passina, a Republican. Berch also works as an AFL-CIO lobbyist at the state Capitol.
Speaking in favor of the bill, Passina said “we lost something” in our democracy around the time of the Supreme Court decision.
Hildebrand said the response around town had been “overwhelmingly positive.”
Both Hildebrand and Paganetti said they were political newcomers, and that this was the first time they had been motivated to act locally.
It is unclear when the resolution will come up again, but Hildebrand and Paganetti said they would be back at the common council.
New Haven’s Board of Alderman is expected to see a similar resolution in early June. A public hearing on the resolution, which asks Connecticut’s congressional delegation to call for a constitutional convention to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, drew a number of supporters earlier this month.
Willimantic is another town where citizens are looking to their town council to pass a resolution against corporate personhood.
At 7 p.m. tonight there will be a discussion about the movement at Windham Middle School in Willimantic. Cotto will join health care activist Lynne Ide and Deputy Secretary of the State James Spallone to discuss the impact of Citizens United and will talk about local organizing strategies.