PORTLAND – The City Council will debate a resolution Wednesday that calls on Maine’s congressional delegation to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolishing “Corporate Personhood.”

The resolution, submitted by Councilor David Marshall and co-sponsored by councilors John Anton and Kevin Donoghue and Mayor Michael Brennan, is expected to draw a crowd of people who are eager to testify in support, including members of the League of Young Voters and the Occupy Maine movement.

But Councilor Cheryl Leeman says the council shouldn’t waste its time debating federal issues over which it has no control.

“This has no place on the agenda,” she said. “This takes away from our focus, which is the business at hand, which is the city business. That is what we were elected to pay attention to.”

Anton said he has no objection to discussing federal issues in the council chamber. “Decisions made at the federal level have a very real impact on the lives of people in Portland,” he said.

Marshall said the Occupy Wall Street movement and its local version, Occupy Maine, inspired him to submit the resolution. One of the movement’s core grievances is that the United States has a political system open to corruption, with representative democracy taken over by corporate and special interests.

Marshall said the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case known as Citizens United has allowed corporations to spend unlimited funds on political advertising. In the 5-4 ruling, which gave corporations and unions freedom to spend as much as they want to support or attack candidates, the court said corporations have the same First Amendment rights as people.

The ruling struck down a key portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, which passed in 2002. Maine lawmakers are now exploring ways to change the Maine Clean Election Act to comply with the ruling. One option is to eliminate matching money for publicly financed candidates who are outspent by privately financed opponents.

While U.S. courts are allowing corporations to spend unlimited money on political ads, they are rejecting people’s right to peaceful assembly, said Marshall. He cited recent court rulings allowing cities to evict Occupy encampments.

The city of Portland is now arguing in court that Occupy Maine’s encampment in Lincoln Park should be shut down because it does not have First Amendment protection.

Marshall said the City Council is a legitimate forum for discussion of the issue, and that similar resolutions have been passed by several cities, including Los Angeles, New York City and Oakland, Calif.

Independent political action groups that claim to be educational, so-called super PACs, are now spending huge amounts of money in the Republican presidential primary to fund attack ads, Brennan said, and no one knows who is paying for the ads.

“There is no accountability, no ability for voters to understand where the money is coming from and who is paying for the ads they are putting out,” he said.

Will Gattis, 24, of Falmouth, a supporter of the League of Young Voters, said the idea for the resolution developed last month after a dozen league supporters met to discuss the issue.

Although the nation’s founders created a government with multiple levels, he said, it is still one government, and a city council is in a position to tell higher levels of government what the people want.

Stephen Demetrious, 56, an Occupy Maine supporter, said local governments are closest to the people and are able to express the people’s will to other political bodies that are less democratic.

“The Citizens United decision was a devastating decision, and people in high and low places think that,” he said.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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