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Democratic Boundaries: Corporate Cash vs. the 99%

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Occupy Milwaukee protester. Credit: wisaflcio/ Flickr Creative Commons

The people of the United States have seemingly awakened.  People are out in the streets, demanding changes to a system in which money controls politics.  Some complain the masses have no clear demands.  But with little transparency, it’s often unclear exactly where to point the blame.  On this edition, corporations, elections and the emerging movement to reclaim democracy.  In a post-Citizens United world, is it too late to save our political system?
PART ONE: Voices from the occupy front — 2:20

PART TWO: Battle for Workers Rights on the Ballot in Ohio-click for transcript—10:15

PART THREE: Noam Chomsky on corporate personhood
Watch: Noam Chomsky on corporate personhood.
PART FOUR: Grassroots Movement to Eliminate Corporate Personhood hits Boulder, CO-click for transcript  — 10:03

This program featured a special collaboration with Truthout.org, and was part of The Media Consortium’s We The People/Campaign Cash collaborative project. Read the related article. For more related stories on Citizen’s United, politics, and money go to http://campaigncash.org. Special thanks to KGNU radio in Boulder, CO.
PART FIVE: Special interview with Truthout reporter Mike Ludwig

 

Featuring:

Noam Chomsky, MIT professor; Mike Gillis, Ohio AFL-CIO communications director; Melissa Fezekas, We Are Ohio spokesperson; Tim Burga, Ohio AFL-CIO president; Marlene Quinn, Cincinnati grandmother; Doug Stern, Cincinnati firefighter Kris Hirsh, Stand up For Ohio spokesman; Larry Cohen, Communications Workers of America president; Laura Spicer, Boulder County Democratic party chair and 2H campaign manager; Judy Lubow, 2H campaign organizer; Elena Nunez, Colorado Common Cause program director; K.C Becker, Macon Cowles & Matt Applebaum, Boulder City Council members; Mark Lowenstein, University of Colorado at Boulder law professor.

 

***Segments and Scripts for Above Program***

PART ONE: Voices from the occupy front — 2:20

PART TWO: Battle for Workers Rights on the Ballot in Ohio — 10:15

This election day, voters in the state of Ohio will be deciding whether to veto a bill which could decimate workers in one of the strongest remaining union states. In a special collaboration with Truthout, reporter Mike Ludwig went to Ohio, where he found a historic community organizing effort, facing off against record amounts of campaign contributions from increasingly faceless corporate donors. This story was a special collaboration with Truthout. Read the print version.

 

CHANTING: “We are the 99 percent!  We are the 99 percent!”

Host: The overabundance of money in politics has emerged as central to the Occupy Wall Street movement.  It’s a growing recognition that those campaign contributors are grooming candidates, writing legislation, and setting the agenda for entire state legislatures—all to further their interests of maximum profit.  One of the clearest ways this process is playing out is with legislation limiting workers rights, conceived and bankrolled by anti-union companies.  The stakes are high for increasingly endangered American unions…and the result is that they have to spend millions as well to defend their very existence.  This election day, voters in the state of Ohio will be deciding whether to veto a bill which could decimate workers in one of the strongest remaining union states.  In a special collaboration with Truthout, reporter Mike Ludwig went to Ohio, where he found a historic community organizing effort, facing off against record amounts of campaign contributions from increasingly faceless corporate donors.

SOUNDS OF PEOPLE IN OFFICE

Mike Ludwig:   It’s a sunny Friday evening in Columbus, Ohio.  About 60 people—mostly dressed in union t-shirts and jeans, are milling around the offices of the AFL-CIO.  Many of these folks came here after a long week on the job….but there’s more work to be done tonight…With only 5 weeks to go before election day, the order of the evening is phone banking, and door knocking—talking to as many potential voters as possible, to warn them about what’s being seen as a threat to the very existence of Ohio’ working class.

Gillis: “Nobody is fooled, everyone knows what this is, and it’s an attack on working people…”

Ludwig: Mike Gillis is communications officer for the Ohio AFL-CIO.  He says opposition to Senate Bill 5 has united private and public sector unions in a way never seen before.

Gillis:  “…it’s trying to limit their ability to collectively bargain and organize as working people. So it would diminish their ability to fight for their interests in the elections and elsewhere.”

Ludwig: The volunteers organized tonight will be asking Ohioans to vote “No” on issue 2; that’s the referendum in question which would veto Senate Bill 5.  SB5 would limit collective bargaining rights of more than 350,000 public workers, and force some to pay more in pension and healthcare costs. After Ohio’s Republican-controlled legislature passed SB 5 by a single vote in March, volunteers took to the streets and collected an unprecedented 1.3 million signatures to put a veto of the bill on the ballot—almost 5 times the number of signatures needed.

Fazekas: “As soon as this bill came out of the governor’s signature, people were already engaged in saying, “What can we do — how can we stop this?” And so we had more than 10,000 volunteers out on the ground with petition booklets and getting people to sign….”

Ludwig:   Melissa Fazekas is a spokesperson for We Are Ohio, the labor movement’s main group campaigning for a veto.

Fazekas: “We turned in all these signatures and literally the next day I started getting emails and phone calls, because of my information on the Internet, from people saying, “All right, I collected signatures. Now what do I do?” And it was July…people just couldn’t wait.”

Ludwig:   Senate Bill 5 proponents claim the law will help city governments use funds more efficiently, and put public worker’s healthcare and pension costs in line with private-sector workers.  If this sounds a lot like the battle that took place in Wisconsin earlier this year…that’s because it is.  The legislation would have similar ramifications. The ideology comes from a like-minded, conservative governor—in Wisconsin it was Scott Walker, in Ohio, it’s newly elected John Kasich.  And the money to fund the ‘yes on 5’ campaign itself is also coming from similar sources.

Fazekas: “Ohioans deserve to know who’s paying for these battles, and when they see a TV commercial they should know — OK, who’s behind this and what’s their agenda? …And they don’t.”

Ludwig:  Building a Better Ohio, a GOP-linked group spearheading the campaign in support of SB5, set itself up as a non-profit fundraising arm to avoid revealing its contributors and finances.   In one of their more controversial ads, they used video of Cincinnati resident Marlene Quinn talking about how fire fighters saved her granddaughter Zoey.

SOUND FROM AD: “If not for the firefighters, we wouldn’t have our Zoey today…NARRATOR: She’s right.  By voting no on issue 2, our safety will be threatened.  Without issue 2, communities will need to lay off hardworking firefighters, to pay for the excessive benefits of other government employees…”

Ludwig:  But that video of Grandmother Marlene Quinn had actually been taken from a “We are Ohio” ad opposing Senate Bill 2, and edited to make the opposite case.  Here’s the original.

SOUND  FROM AD “If not for the firefighters, we wouldn’t have our Zoey today.   That’s why it is so important to vote no on issue 2.”

Ludwig:  Another recent ad featuring Governor Kasich doesn’t specifically mention issue 2 in the ad,.  As a result, ‘Make Ohio Great’ the group funding the ad, doesn’t have to disclose information about their finances to the secretary of state’s office.  Turns out, ‘Make Ohio Great’ is a non-profit project of the Republican Governors Association, or RGA.
Neither Building a Better Ohio, or the RGA responded to several requests for comment.  But even with the numbers that are known, the intertwining paths of money and influence aren’t too hard to trace.
The RGA spent millions of dollars in 2010 on TV ads and mailers to help elect both Kasich in Ohio, and Governor Walker in Wisconsin. This came only months after the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in a case known as Citizens United, which opened the doors for corporations and unions to directly spend unlimited amounts both for and against political candidates.
Corporations have been able to use the RGA as a kind of campaign contribution proxy.  Consider Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart, both companies with a record of opposing unions. During the 2010 election, Coca-Cola donated seven thousand dollars directly to Kasich’s campaign and ten thousand to his transition fund, but gave seventy five thousand to the RGA.  Wal-Mart donated ninety thousand dollars to the RGA but nothing to Kasich directly. The RGA then used those contributions to pay for ads against Democratic incumbent Governor Ted Strickland, who Kasich defeated by a narrow margin.

Sound from anti-Strickland Attack Ad: “…seems like he pulled a Strickland and got busted. Newspapers said it was accounting errors, gimmicks. Hm, pulled a Strickland.”

Ludwig:  Private healthcare, pharmaceutical companies, and other corporations also contributed tens of thousands of dollars to support ads attacking Strickland.  Speaking at a rally in October Tim Burga with the Ohio AFL-CIO said the agenda is to eliminate the middle class.

Burga: “…this is an opportunity for the other side to completely cripple organized labor, so wall street the super wealthy, corporate CEOs, can have complete control of the public policy agenda, to create a permanent low wage work force,  That’s what’s at stake here,.”

Ludwig:  Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart are members of the American Legislative Exchange Council, abbreviated ALEC.  ALEC brings together state legislators and corporate leaders from companies like Bayer, Pfizer, and Exxon-Mobile to draft model bills for state legislators seeking to advance a conservative, pro-business agenda. Governor Kasich is an alumni of ALEC, and in 2010 ALEC companies donated more than half a million dollars to him and other Republican legislators that supported SB 5.  Mike Gillis from the AFL-CIO says legislation like SB5 is part of what the bang companies get for their campaign bucks.

Gillis : “It’s no coincidence that all these attacks come at exactly the same time and across a bunch of battleground states, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and others.  They’re seeing the same types of laws being passed in the state legislatures and signed by their governors who are often in the pocket of the same people.”

Ludwig:  But the Ohio bill’s authors may have made a fatal misstep in their political calculus. While Wisconsin’s now infamous anti-union law exempted police and firefighters, those first responders are included in the Ohio bill—and they’re not happy about the idea of losing their right to negotiate on their own working conditions.  Cincinnati firefighter Doug Stern has been speaking at rallies across the state.
Doug Stern, Cincinnati firefighter: “Senate Bill 5, now Issue 2, is unfair, is an unsafe attack on Ohio’s first responders like myself, to put every man woman and child in this state at risk.  I’m a firefighter and let me tell you what I know:  I know how many fire fighters we need on the fire truck.  I know how many firefighters it takes to put out a fire, and to rescue someone when time is critical. Any law that takes away the professional voice of firefighters…it’s unsafe to the community, and we won’t stand by and let it happen.”

Hirsh: “There’s a traditional understanding of Ohio that there’s about eight or nine blue counties and about 80 red counties, but when the republican legislature passed Senate Bill 5, they really started cannibalizing their own base.”
Ludwig:  Kris Hirsh is with Stand Up For Ohio, a group leading the grassroots campaign to veto Senate Bill 5.

Hirsh: “They started going after the policemen and the firemen and the teachers in those rural areas that by traditional analysis had voted 1/3 republican. There’s always a strong sense that your corrections officers and your highway patrol’s and your police officers had a significant right-wing within their union, and when the Republican Party targeted them as the cause of our economic problems, they really stepped on their own foot.”

CHANTING:  “The people united will never be defeated.”

Ludwig:  Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America, told volunteers preparing to go knock on doors, that the grassroots movement in Ohio is part of something bigger.
Cohen“You’re leading a movement here! You’re not just fighting back; we’re building a movement.  Those students in Madison?  They’re building a movement, and we followed em.  Those young workers that are in the park on Wall Street, fighting Wall Street? Occupying Wall Street> They’re fighting back.”(Applause)

Ludwig:  Many Ohioans have clearly been energized, and the ‘no’ side has been ahead in the polls for months.  But money has also been a major factor.  With almost 4 million dollars coming from national union offices to We Are Ohio, as of mid-October, the pro-union campaign had actually spent more on TV ads than their corporate-funded opponents. But labor activists are expected to be outspent in the next 2 weeks. Experts estimate the total cost of the Issue 2 campaigns could total between $33 and $40 million dollars. Whichever side prevails, there are likely to be many more expensive campaign battles in Ohio and across the country in the years to come; meaning the ultimate loser will be democracy itself.For Making Contact, in partnership with Truthout, I’m Mike Ludwig in Columbus, Ohio.

Host: As election day approaches, you can go to our website for updates on the battle over issue 2 in Ohio, including Truthout articles and an interview with reporter Mike Ludwig on campaign finance reports.  That’s all at our website, radioproject dot org. We’ll be right back.

PART THREE: Noam Chomsky on corporate personhood 

Watch: Noam Chomsky on corporate personhood
PART FOUR: Grassroots Movement to Eliminate Corporate Personhood hits Boulder, CO.  — 10:03


In April, voters in Madison Wisconsin approved a city referendum calling for amending the U.S. Constitution to establish that “only human beings, not corporations, are entitled to constitutional rights”. This November, voters in Boulder Colorado will be asked to vote on the same question. From Boulder, Maeve Conran has the story.

 

Host: …so what can be done about Corporate Personhood?  Well, it would take a constitutional Amendment to change federal law—and that has to be ratified by three quarters of the states.  It’s a tough hill to climb…but there’s a growing movement in local communities across the country.  In April, voters in Madison Wisconsin approved a city referendum calling for amending the U.S. Constitution to establish that “only human beings, not corporations, are entitled to constitutional rights”. This November, voters in Boulder Colorado will be asked to vote on the same question.  From Boulder, Maeve Conran has the story.

Ambient sound of a party… background chatter

Maeve Conran: On a late September evening, supporters of the 2H ballot measure gather at a Boulder restaurant to officially launch their campaign.

Spicer: “My name is Laura Spicer , and I’m the vice chair of the Boulder County Democratic Party and one of the campaign managers of  2 H. We can’t match corporate billionaire dominance when it comes to elections and governments.    It’s a government by for and of the people not by for and of corporations.” Conran:   This November, voters in Boulder will be asked to approve a measure that states that only human beings, not corporations, are entitled to constitutional rights, and that money is not speech, and therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech.  Judy Lubow, one of the original organizers of the 2 H campaign, said she became alarmed at the state of the democracy following the Citizen’s United ruling – and that’s what prompted her to act locally. Lubow: “In my opinion, Congress is bought and the presidency is almost fatally compromised.  We can’t seem to get real change no matter who is elected.  And that being so, one of the few places where we can impact anything is locally.  Because in comparison there is a lot of us to local government, as opposed to so few of us in regard to the national government. So we can make an impact in local government and that is why Move to Amend is choosing to do local actions.”Conran: That group Lubow referred to, Move to Amend, is pushing similar measures across the country including one that passed in  Madison, Wisconsin this past April. These local measures like this are part of a national movement whose ultimate goal is to amend the U.S. constitution to state that corporations are not entitled to the same rights as people. Elena Nunez with Colorado Common Cause says that one of the local measures won’t actually change any laws, they’ll send a message to Congress that the people are demanding a change.Nunez: “Well, I think it’s important to realize that the Constitutional Amendment Strategy, it’s a long term movement. And the only way its going to happen is by having citizens in local communities, like Boulder, take a stand and say that it’s important. We’re not going to see the change trickle down from Washington DC. Anyone who’s watched any of the recent debates, whether it’s healthcare or the environment or climate change, knows that change isn’t going to happen in Washington DC.” Conran: In August, the Boulder City Council voted 6-3 to put the issue on November’s ballot. Council member Casey Becker and the other two dissenters cited unintended consequences of what they cited as “language that was too broad.” Becker: “Ninety-nine percent of corporations are less than 5 people. And corporations include non-profits and associations and labor unions and a lot of folks that do really good work.”

Conran:  The initiative supporters reject this criticism saying they are simply calling for an amendment and not articulating what the language of that amendment would be. Macon Cowles was the first Boulder council member to say yes to the ballot initiative.

Cowles:  “The thing that gives me hope with a measure like this is that shouting in the dark at first, but our voice will be joined with that of Madison and that of other people around the country.  It is a shout to our leaders at the state level and the federal level that we have to change the way in which we treat corporations in this country. They have so invaded the public space, they’ve so corrupted the political process, the body politic at the state and federal level that really our politics are in a shamble. I think of Wallace Stevens and what he said and that is ‘after the final no, there comes a yes, and on that yes the future of the world depends,’ that’s where we are now.” Applause… fades out…Mark Lowenstein: I don’t think it’s well thought out and I don’t think it’s a well considered amendment and I don’t think that reflects well on the city council.Conran:  Mark Lowenstein, is a Professor of Law at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Lowenstein: I don’t think it reflects well on the city of Boulder and I don’t think it reflects well on the state of Colorado in terms of attracting businesses to make an investment if there’s hostility to corporations and I think this is what it’s all about – Hostility to corporations.

Conran: There’s one corporation in particular that Lowenstein feels is being singled out locally… Xcel energy.  Two other initiatives also on this year’s ballot will ask Boulder voters if they want to form a municipal utility company and break away from the energy giant.

Lowenstein: I think there’s a connection between this and the municipalization of Xcel energy… I think there too there is a great distrust of Xcel energy, in part because it is a corporation.  So I think if you want to have a vibrant economy the last thing you want to do is discourage people from investing in your economy, in a small part, that’s what this does as well.

Conran: The connection between the ballot issues is not lost on the 2 H supporters.  Judy Lubow says the example of Xcel energy make clear why corporate personhood is wrong.

Lubow: But we’re also seeing now in the city of Boulder itself, there’s this wonderful new issue that’s called municipalization, where the city is trying to and is asking citizens for the right to be able to create and sell its own electricity and to take that right away from the corporations, but to do it themselves.  And there’s a huge amount of money being spent against that campaign, much more than local citizens could raise.

Conran: In fact, Xcel has spent half a million dollars campaigning against municipalization, including a 250,000 donation to a citizen fronted campaign. This is ten times the amount that four groups campaigning against municipalization have spent. But law Professor Mark Lowenstein says critics of the Citizen’s United ruling, largely misunderstand the ruling by focusing on corporate spending in elections.  Rather he says it’s really about speech.  Lowenstein:   Interestingly, Citizens United itself involved a non-profit corporation that wanted to pay for the running of a film that they thought would influence voters.  So I suppose what people are saying who oppose citizens united is “we don’t want that information to get into the hands of voters, we don’t want people to see that film”.  Isn’t that a frightening thought? Conran:   But the Citizen’s United ruling has galvanized communities around the country.  And in Boulder, Move to Amend has chapters in at least 17 states and nearly 136,000 people have signed their online petition calling for a constitutional amendment eliminating corporate personhood.

Conran: Back in Boulder at the 2H launch party, people are confident of a win in November. The measure has been endorsed by 18 local organizations including local chapters of the Sierra Club and the AFL-CIO. Six council members have also officially endorsed the campaign, including Matt Applebaum who says he was initially skeptical.

Applebaum: We get asked to put a lot of things on the ballot and you have to do it very carefully, especially when it doesn’t seem to be a local issue and I had all the concerns other people did too about well… this isn’t going to change anything after all, you can’t expect to have a constitutional change at least not in my life time.  But the more I thought about it, what became obvious to me and what is obviously clear to all of you in this room, is that it’s really hard to think of a more important issue… this is kind of fundamental to democracy at all levels, so it is a local issue… and it’s a state issue and it’s a national issue…and when I realized that, it became obvious that the right thing to do was to put it on the ballot.  Conran: Colorado Common Cause’s Nunez, says she’s confident of a win this November because Colorado voters have already shown support forgetting money out of politics.

Nunez: ..in Colorado we have a strong history of fighting for strong campaign finance laws. Boulder has a strong public financing law. Statewide, we passed Amendment 27, which is the Campaign Finance Law, with 66% of the vote. So Colorado voters, both locally in Boulder and state-wide, have said time and again that they want to reduce the influence of money in politics. And what the Supreme Court has said is that those decisions that these communities have made no longer carry adequate weight, and they’ve overturned parts of the law, so now you can see corporations spending unlimited amounts on independent ads in support or opposition to a candidate. So even though Colorado voters have said we don’t want corporations and labor unions to make direct contributions or independent expenditures; the Supreme Court overruled their individual voice.
Conran:  Supporters of 2 H say they want the measure to pass by a huge margin, to send a strong message to other communities across the country that local action can make a difference nationally.

CHANTING: Yes on 2H…Ready people?…Yes on 2 H!

Conran: Along with Boulder, Missoula Montana will have an anti corporate personhood measure on this year’s ballot and citizens in Eugene, Oregon and Marina, California are in the early stages of a similar campaign. This comes on top of the 30 municipalities that have already passed resolutions and ordinances abolishing corporate personhood since the Citizens United decision.
For Making Contact, I’m Maeve Conran, in Boulder, Colorado.

For More Information:

We The People Campaign
Campaign Cash
Move To Amend
Proud Ohio Workers
Working America
Stand Up For Ohio
We Are Ohio
American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)
ALEC Exposed
Republican Governors Association
KGNU radio
Truthout
The Media Consortium
Public Citizen
Jamie Raskin
Professor of constitutional law at American University, a Maryland State Senator and a Senior Fellow at People for the American Way
People for the American Way report “CitizensBlindsided: Secret Corporate Money in the 2010 Elections and America’s New Shadow Democracy.”
Center for Media and Democracy (and ALEC Exposed)
Common Cause
Demos Ideas and ACtrion to Promote the Common Good
Public Campaign
Free Speech fro People
Public Campaign Action Fund
Campaign Cash is part of an investigative effort to expose the influence of corporate money on the political process.

 

Articles/Blogs/Videos/Audio:

Republican Governor’s Association Congratulates Governor – Elect Jon Kasich
Building A Better Ohio Illegally Uses We Are Ohio’s Ad “Zoey”
Noam Chomsky on Corporate Personhood
The Corporation film excerpt
Dave Rovix on why Corporations are not people
Music Video (staring Mitt Romney) by Janice Leber
Noam Chomsky the rights of corps and undocumented immigrants, and how “money is speech.”

 

Music:

‘Original Music’ by Aylan Mello
‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ by The Flying Lizards

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