Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Ongoing Legacy of the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD) in Ohio

POCLAD principals Richard Grossman and Jane Anne Morris came to Ohio in 1996 to conduct a "Rethinking the Corporation, Rethinking Democracy" workshop on the history and current manifestations of corporate rule. It was one of dozens of "Rethinks" facilitated by them and others in POCLAD over several years across the country. The Ohio Rethink led to publications and audiovisuals on the history of the relationship of corporations and democracy in the state -- as well as talks, articles, our own in-state version of a Rethink workshop, several state-wide coordinated local actions and projects, and regulator phone and email coordination and communication.

The original Ohio Rethink has also paved the way 16 years later for the current education and organization in many communities to promote a 28th amendment to the  U.S. Constitution as proposed by the national Move to Amend (MTA) coalition calling for an end to the legaldoctrines that corporations possess constitutional rights and that money spent in elections is equivalent to First Amendment free speech. The MTA amendment  would certainly include reversing the Citizens United vs FEC decision of 2010 but goes much further.

Many campaigns across Ohio are underway at the local level, inspired by POCLAD's work over the years, to pressure city councils to pass a resolution calling for a Move to Amend like resolution or, better, to place the issue on the ballot for direct voter consideration. The latter istricky since conventional "resolutions" can't appear directly on ballots under state law unless there is an included provision calling for the creation of a new or amendment to an existing local law. This makes citizeninitiative campaigns, which bypasses councils altogether, challenging.

Three Ohio cities have already passed resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United…if not more.  More than a dozen other communities are working to pass complete MTA resolutions in their councils. Additionally, two Cleveland suburbs, Newburgh Heights and Brecksville, are pursuing strategies to put these issues directly before voters this November. To get around the local law hurdle, Newburgh Heights calls for the creation of a Mayor's Task Force (the Mayor personally knew Richard Grossman) that would meet 10 times over the next year to examine the influence of corporate expenditures on elections. Meanwhile, the Brecksville initiative calls for establishing a "Democracy Day" (the term taken from POCLAD principal Peter Kellman's BuildingUnions booklet) each February after every federal election. A public meeting would be held on that day to take public testimony, including from the Mayor and council, on the impact of political spending by corporations, unions, PACs and SuperPACs on their community.

What started out as "far out" concepts and strategies by POCLAD in Ohio (and certainly elsewhere) has in less than a generation become much more normal vernacular and respected — if not essential — work. Richard and others in POCLAD used to say our first goal was not to change the politics or constitution but to change the culture. Once the waypeople think shifts, changing politicians, laws, rules and constitutions will follow. Our work in Ohio, while certainly seeking to pass resolutions and citizen initiatives is nice and great for morale, essentially seeks primarily to alter the way we think about who we are and the rights and powers we should possess over those of corporations and money.

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