Move To Amend
(MTA) is a coalition of thousands of Americans who object to the Supreme Court 2010 ruling (Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission) (”Citizens United”) that corporations are persons. MTA believes that only flesh-and-blood human beings should be considered “persons.”
A primary reason, according to MTA, is that “Citizens United,” when combined with the 1st Amendment, allows corporations to now spend unlimited money on elections – and anonymously, because of poor financial disclosure laws. This, MTA claims, allows corporations to “buy elections” and run our government.
The goal of MTA is to halt potential damage by calling that a new amendment be made to the US Constitution. They propose that the amendment unequivocally state that inalienable rights belong to natural persons only, and that money is not a form of protected free speech under the First Amendment.
MTA stresses that it is bipartisan and that “efforts to end corporate personhood are not anti-business or anti-capitalist, and are certainly not intended to inhibit beneficial economic activity,” according to Tim Buckley and Kirk Leonard of the local (Marion-Polk) MTA group.
Salem City Council
Salem City Charter says the City Council “consists of a mayor and one councilor representing each ward.” Salem has eight wards (geographical regions) and the voters in each ward elect their own councilor “who resides in the ward, to represent them on the council.”
Lists of wards and their councilors are easily found on the City of Salem site. The council of nine (eight councilors, one mayor) meets twice a month to “develop the policies that will direct the operation of the city.” They also hire a city manager “to implement their policy direction and actually manage the operations of the city.”
The mayor and councilors receive very small stipends that do not cover their expenses; they serve at the behest of the people. The city manager is a paid position.
One tactic of MTA is to ask state, county and/or city governments to place a “referral” on November election ballots. The ballot would ask citizens to weigh in with their own opinion on whether they believe corporations are people and money is speech. They could say yes or they could say no. More than ten governments of different levels have done this so far, in areas as diverse as Montana and Colorado.
Such ballot referrals tell national representatives (Senators and Representatives, both Republican and Democrat) the will of the people who elected them. If a majority of citizens are found to object to the definition of corporations as people (as MTA believes they will), their representatives (MTA hopes) will feel emboldened to propose the workable Constitutional Amendment needed to overturn “Citizens United.” Corvallis, Eugene and Coos Bay have succeeded in getting such wording on their November ballots.
Early this spring Marion-Polk MTA approached the Salem City Council to allow a referral on the November ballot. Correspondence was sent to the eight councilors, the mayor and the city manager in April, advising them of the issue, requesting a referral be allowed and requesting to meet individually with that city servant.
Another communication was sent in May. This second packet included language that had been created and vetted by election lawyers for how the phrasing on the ballot would be. It also had a DVD on Corporate Personhood. MTA says that four councilors and the city manager did not respond to any communication.
At the June 25th Salem City Council meeting, local MTA made a formal proposal for a referral on the November ballot. (In legal jargon, they asked the City Council to forward a referral to the citizens of Salem for a popular vote in November.) Six from MTA testified; no one spoke in opposition.
Since any advance of MTA’s interest needed a councilor’s “sponsorship,” MTA was glad when Ward 2 councilor Laura Tesler “moved the referral forward” at the July 9th City Council meeting. Tesler relates that she had “quite a few constituents” approach her. “It is my constituents’ rights to ask me to sponsor a motion and if I think it has local relevance I will,” she says.
At the July 9th City Council meeting, the MTA issue was moved to the front of the meeting (at the request of Tesler) by Ward 1 Councilor Chuck Bennett. Both Councilors told us they didn’t want the MTA folks to sit through an entire meeting as they had to on June 25th.
Nine MTA (and other community) members spoke in support of the referral, generally saying that it was important and proper to allow citizens to make their voices heard on the overwhelmingly critical issue of corporate personhood.
John Miller, president of the Chamber of Commerce, did not want the motion to pass. Although Miller said he had no comment on the merits of the idea, he said he was concerned that the Council and City staff would spend many hours on the referral when it had many issues to consider and “this issue doesn’t belong in this forum.”
The second in opposition was Paul Jaudes, Salem chapter leader of the “tea party” Americans for Prosperity. Jaudes commented that the MTA language said nothing about unions, nonprofits and NGOs and the influence of these groups on elections. “They [MTA] just want to regulate all entities they don’t agree with…. “Corporations are nothing but a bunch of people, just like unions – and [unions] scream for their rights.”
City Councilor Statements
Here’s how City Councilors expressed themselves that night:
Ward 4 councilor Rich Clausen objected, saying he’d seen “no cohesive statement on the table. It’s a vague generality.” Brad Nanke, councilor from Ward 3, was also opposed. He said the referral was“constitutionally complex.” He also believed that the referral seemed “very political and this is supposed to be a non-partisan body.”
Diana Dickey, Councilor from Ward 5, wasn’t “crazy about amending the Constitution” and also wasn’t sure it was right for the City Council to take a position on the matter.
Ward 1 councilor Bennett spoke in opposition numerous times. He said he objected because the question was “putting a purely advisory vote unrelated to any city issue onto the city ballot… Once you open the city ballot up for non-city issues where do you stop?” He also commented several times that the language he was presented with was vague. “No one’s given me anything concrete,” he said, and, later, “I still don’t understand what’s in it.”
Mayor Anna Peterson was also firmly opposed. She said “jobs and economic development are Numbers 1 and 2 on our Council goals…. We are elected to be leaders, not elected to be swayed by push and pull of few people who may send us emails or may telephone us…. I have 160,000 constituents but I haven’t heard from 160,000, or even 80,000.”
“It’s our job to inform constituents of what we do do as a city… to make their lives better,” she said. [This referral] is not in our purview. If this is the first – then what’s next?”
Councilor Tesler justified her motion several times. She felt that giving citizens the chance to voice their opinion in November on whether they thought corporations were people was “a very important issue” to her Ward 2 constituents. “I believe the citizens of Salem have the right to vote… as this issue affects all of us,” she felt.
Sheronne Blasi, of Ward 7, commented that she didn’t really understand what the council was expected to vote on, and commented that it should have been better defined.
Councilor Sheryl Thomas of Ward 6 concluded the discussion. Thomas said the council needed to “set a precedent and move the referral forward… It’s not just about being a good leader; a good leader knows how to follow and we need to listen to our constituents… We need to meet the needs of our… community members and listen to them a little bit more,” she said.
In the end, the city council voted 4 – 3 against Tesler’s motion. Against were councilors Bennett, Blasi, Clausen and Nanke, with the Mayor clearly in opposition. Voting for it were councilors Tesler, Thomas and Dickey.
Part 2 Next time; Reactions and Analysis of the vote and its implications.