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Ohio PIRG Education Fund
The Cleveland Plain Dealer
Robert Rozboril

BRECKSVILLE - The first Democracy Day town hall meeting allowed for the exchange of a wide variety of ideas about the issue of whether or not a 28th amendment to the Constitution is necessary.

The Human Services Center was packed Feb. 25 with people as well as ideas.

Some said they felt that the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission on Jan. 21, 2010, allows corporations to virtually buy elections and should be overturned. Move to Amend, the group leading the charge to get Congress to pass the aforementioned amendment, commonly uses this argument.

Citizens United recognized corporations, unions and political action committees as persons who have equal rights. With those rights, they were granted the power to contribute an unlimited amount of money to political campaigns.

Several members of Brecksville Citizens for Transparent Politics, which got the issue of creating Democracy Day on the November ballot by initiative petition, were on hand to express their views on the matter. Many supporters of their cause also approached the podium to speak, one at a time.

Opponents of the issue also turned out in full force to speak their piece as well.

Mayor Jerry N. Hruby has long said he believes the matter is a national one and does not directly impact the city because money from corporations and PACs does not affect elections in Brecksville.

“I think in the 26 years I’ve been mayor, one time I received, what is considered political actions, a contribution from Bob Dole’s campaign,” Hruby said. “I remember he came to town and I was at an event and I guess they had some extra money so they gave me some of it. There was really no discussion as to any strings tied to that.”

Hruby said the bottom line is that small governments, like Brecksville’s, are focused on serving the safety, health and welfare of their citizens and not on promoting political campaigns.

“Very few corporations have interest in what we do,” Hruby said. “They deal primarily with county level, state level and the federal level. As you get into those arenas, the dollars are larger and larger because the stakes are larger. So, how does it impact the city of Brecksville? Well, it doesn’t.”

City Council President Greg Skaljac said that the biggest impact from higher levels of government and corporations on the city is legislation that takes away the city’s right to regulate land use.

Several speakers expressed agreement with Hruby and Skaljac’s views.

Some proponents of overturning Citizens United, via a constitutional amendment, said action must start at the local level to eventually have an impact that gets the attention of Congress.

Mayor Trevor Elkins, of Newburgh Heights, passed a similar ordinance to the one that established Democracy Day in Brecksville.

He said that he feels that Congress has “a tin ear” and it takes an effort like the ones put together in Brecksville and his city for the people to be heard.

Elkins said that both the Democratic and Republican parties have become like businesses that can only run with large sums of money.

He said that during his campaign for mayor, he used $15,000 in contributions from labor unions to run his campaign for a job that only paid $12,000 a year.

Elkins reported that it takes about $1 million to run a campaign for Congress and lose and urged the audience to imagine how much it must cost to win.

Several speakers said they feel such a system keeps many qualified candidates from running because they can’t afford to.

Greg Coleridge, coordinator of Move to Amend Ohio, thanked the citizens of Brecksville for passing the law creating Democracy Day as a way of asking Congress to declare that corporations are not people and money is not speech.

“‘Corporations’ here includes for-profit, not-for-profit and union entities,” Coleridge said. “Inalienable constitutional rights were intended by our nation’s founders to apply solely to human beings. Corporations are government creations. They were originally subordinate to ‘We the People.’ They didn’t possess constitutional rights; only publicly granted protections and privileges.”

More than one resident said they resented the fact that the terms of Democracy Day force Mayor Hruby to send a letter to Congress declaring, on their behalf, that they believe corporations are not people and money is not speech.

Some said they feared what Move to Amend sought to do would threaten citizens’ rights to assemble because it includes unions and PACs.

Steve Sweetnich, a Brecksville resident, spoke out against the ideas contained in the ordinance establishing Democracy Day.

Sweetnich said many residents did not understand the issue supported a movement amend the constitution. He also said he believes such an action will not result in equal rights among the various organizations it lists.

“It should have, perhaps, been more correctly labeled ‘Allow Government to Restrict First Amendment Rights,’ ” Sweetnich said. “I believe that unions, under move to amend, will be able to continue to act as political engines for one party, providing both money and labor to campaigns while companies large and small in other groups will be restricted.”

Several attendees thanked the mayor for allowing the event to take place and ensuring everyone who wanted to speak was able.

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