February 1, 2012

Maine town to vote on effort opposing corporate personhood

Voters in Freedom will decide whether to call for amending the Constitution partly in response to a Supreme Court ruling.

FREEDOM — Residents will vote at town meeting in March whether to ask President Obama and Maine's congressional delegates to amend the U.S. Constitution to declare that corporations do not have the same rights as people.

Sarah Bicknell, 23, of Freedom presented enough petition signatures to selectmen Monday to put the nonbinding measure before voters.

Citing the Occupy movement and similar votes nationwide – including one last month in Portland – Bicknell said the goal of her effort is to require the disclosure of corporate contributors to political campaigns, events and advertisements.

"The actual petition and passing of a resolution is completely nonbinding. It's more of a statement against corporate funding of campaigns," said Bicknell, a Unity College student. She collected the signatures with her partner, Adam Cram of Freedom.

Bicknell said Tuesday that the petition is in part a response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2010 that the government may not limit corporations' political spending. The ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts, without disclosure, on campaigns.

Andrew Ketterer, a former Maine attorney general, legislator and chairman of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, said pushback from people across the country "has really been significant because extending that First Amendment right of free speech to all corporations really changes the playing field in favor of major corporations and downplays the interests of people such as you and me."

Amending the Constitution to counteract the Supreme Court ruling is a difficult task, he said, and rightfully so, but the efforts of people across the country, now including some in Freedom, are valuable whether they are successful or not.

"Any time you can get citizens involved in the political process and going to debates, talking about critical issues that face the state, engaging in that discourse and debate, I think it's a positive thing," he said.

Those who supported the 5-4 Supreme Court decision two years ago said it was a victory for the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. They said the government should not regulate the political speech of companies.

Those who opposed the ruling said that companies are not people with a right to free speech, and that a flood of corporate money to political campaigns could lead to corruption.

The Portland City Council voted Jan. 18 in favor of a nonbinding resolution calling on Maine's congressional delegation to support an amendment to the Constitution abolishing "corporate personhood." Cities across the U.S. have taken similar votes.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., introduced a constitutional amendment to the U.S. Senate in December that would overturn the Citizens United ruling.

Freedom Selectman Brian Jones said it's important for residents to have an opportunity to speak about the issue at town meeting.

"You don't have to look very far to see the influence of money in politics and its negative impact," he said.

Town Clerk Cynthia Abbott said she validated 34 petition signatures, enough to put the measure before voters at town meeting, which will take place March 10 at the Dirigo Grange. There are 564 registered voters in the Waldo County town.

The resolution would direct the selectmen to forward a copy of the declaration to Obama, Republican U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, U.S. Rep. Michaud, D-2nd District, and all members of the Maine House and Senate, according to Jones.

 

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Erin Rhoda can be contacted at 612-2368 or at:

erhoda@centralmaine.com

 

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