Democracy Day 2017

Crescent-News, Feb. 10, 2017 (report by Todd Helberg, Defiance hosts second Democracy Day forum)  Less than a dozen persons attended the second Democracy Day forum held in Defiance’s city service building Thursday night.

The forum is required by a ballot issue approved by city voters in November 2013, with the first held on Feb. 12, 2015.

The ballot measure concerned corporate speech in the political process, and the event’s stated purpose was to discuss “the impact of money on the democratic process.”

The issue was put on the ballot through an initiative brought forward by the Occupy Defiance group, and is part of a larger nationwide effort by Move to Amend, which seeks to change the U.S. Constitution “to establish that corporations are not people and money is not speech.”

Its passage requires a Democracy Day forum in odd-number years.

One person who helped put the 2013 issue on the ballot — Dolores Whitman of rural Defiance County — gave an impassioned plea on why corporations should not be given “personhood” and the same speech rights as citizens.

She noted that the village of Waterville passed a charter last year providing a “community bill of rights,” to try to stop the Nexus pipeline.  But this was superseded by other laws.

“Our government has become a corporate state,” Whitman said.

She challenged those who aren’t convinced of this to read and study the matter, though she suggested not using the mainstream media.

“Our amendment is seeking to give rights to the community,” Whitman said.  “They should have direct control over their environment.”

On the opposing side, resident Randall Peabody said part of the problem is that there is “competing definitions” about what constitutes a corporation.  This could include unions, churches and “any kind of group,” he contended.

He added that it’s not a “good idea” to determine “who can speak out on an issue and who can’t.”

While Whitman called corporations “pieces of paper,” Peabody countered that they are “made up of people.  A business cannot do anything by itself.”  He added that if something impacts a business owner, “why should they not be able to comment on it?’

When asked to define “corporate speech,” Whitman said she was “not talking about a corporation issuing a statement.”

Peabody asked if the amendment would pass, would corporations have the right (to) speak out?  Whitman answer affirmatively, with Peabody responding: “Then what’s the amendment for?  We have that now.”

Following those exchanges, resident Rollie Wolfrum noted concern for the amount of money in politics, saying “who has the gold” makes the rules.  He clained the division between the “haves” and the “have nots” has grown while “compromise” is a dirty word.

He asked representatives and local officials to “treat each other with respect.”

Defiance resident Margaret Proulx continued the discussion, asking the question, “who do we mean when we say ‘we the people'”?  She said it boils down to the “right of everyone to influence the government.”

Proulx explained that money is the means in which “influence is conveyed.”  She said if some feel there’s too much money in politics, then “like-minded people should band together to influence the government.  You can’t have one protected and not another.”

As for corporations, Proulx said, “a corporation has an interest not to be regulated out of business.”

Earlier, city law director David Williams reminded the forum Thursday’s session was to discuss the impact of corporate money on local politics in Defiance.  But he said no officeholders in Defiance have received significant contributions from anyone.

In addressing Whitman’s concerns, Williams said the Constitution “says the right of free speech shall not be abridged.  You’d be hard-pressed to find a newspaper not owned by a corporation.”

He added: “I don’t think the position you’re advocating is supported by the Constitution, which is why you are proposing an amendment.”