Restoring our representative democracy: A response to Rep. Davidson’s Nov. 22 Town Hall

By Deb Hogshead

Guest columnist

“Will you support House Joint Resolution 48, the proposed We the People Amendment?”

That’s the question I asked Rep. Warren Davidson at his Nov. 22 town hall in Troy, and I appreciated his willingness to engage and reflect on the question. It’s a question we should ask every elected official and candidate for public office, whether Democrat or Republican, as we enter the 2022 election year.

The proposed amendment represents a critical step in restoring our nation to a government of, by, and for the people. It will overturn decades of court rulings that have granted constitutional rights to corporate entities, giving the largest corporations greater power over our day-to-day lives and placing the quest for higher profits above the basic needs and desires of working people. It makes clear that constitutional rights belong to natural persons only—not artificial ones created through state charter in the form of corporations, associations, unions, and nonprofits—and that money spent on elections is not protected speech.

Former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY) recognized the problem of corporate power when he called for an amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. In 2015, he wrote that business leaders throughout the nation “understand that a political system which allows the largest corporations in our country to exercise disproportionate influence over our public policy stifles competition in the marketplace and harms our economy.”

The language of the proposed amendment is consistent with principles on which our nation was founded, principles that guided elections and public policy in our early history. In some respects, it’s consistent with Rep. Davidson’s stance on issues such as security laws governing private equity markets (which he has said amount to “wealth tests” that shut working-class Americans out of financial opportunities) and vaccine passports (which he has said represent power grabs by big government and big business seeking greater control over the lives of individual Americans).

In response to my question, Rep. Davidson said he objects to the proposed amendment because he believes it will limit the ability of associations to use money donated by their members to support particular candidates and issues. With just 220 words, the amendment itself will not do that. What it will do is allow voters, through their elected representatives, to establish laws that regulate money in elections and determine the privileges and protections afforded corporate entities.

Rep. Davidson also said, “In an equal way, under our current laws, [associations] can spend money that people will give to them.” But spending does not occur “in an equal way,” and the corporate entities with the most money typically have the greatest influence over politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, even when voters want something else.

Consider our local cattle ranchers and the unfair competition they face, particularly during difficult times like the current pandemic, when just four major companies (including Tyson Foods) control roughly 80 percent of the meatpacking industry and cheaper, imported meat can be packaged and labeled “a product of the USA.” According to OpenSecrets.org, during the 2019-2020 election cycle, just 32 donors contributed $200 or more to the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association PAC, with the top contribution of $1,600 coming from a farmer. By contrast, 94 donors contributed $200 or more to the North American Meat Institute PAC, with seven (including John R. Tyson of New York and John Tyson of Arkansas) donating $5,000. Which PAC do you think will have the greatest influence over elected legislators?

But the proposed amendment isn’t just about getting big money out of politics and preventing public corruption scandals à la Larry Householder, his nonprofit Generation Now and FirstEnergy Corp. It’s also about preventing large corporate entities from using a variety of court-granted constitutional rights to circumvent efforts by local communities to create and maintain vibrant environments for residents and small businesses. Examples follow.

• A communications company could use 14th Amendment rights to sue the city of Troy if Troy denied a permit for the erection of a cell tower within its jurisdiction.

• A chemical plant that releases a hazardous substance into the Great Miami River could claim 4th Amendment rights to prevent a regulatory agency from searching its premises without a warrant, thus slowing the community’s understanding of the nature of the hazard and its cause.

• A Pennsylvania fracking company could rely on the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution to dump its waste in a nearby Miami County landfill.

The issues are complex, but the principle is simple—a government of, by and for the people. Restoring our representative democracy starts with HJR 48. Encourage Rep. Davidson, other elected leaders and political candidates to support the We the People Amendment.