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[greenyes] Fwd: PA town outlaws corporate personhood
Anyone interested in being the next community to adopt this policy? I first heard of this concept at an Empowering Democracy conference 2 years ago. It's exciting to see it being implemented as another tool for sustainability.

Gary Liss
From Amita Lonial <amita@no.address>
Date Mon, 17 Feb 2003 095253 -0600
Subject [empowering_democracy] FW PA township rules against corporate personhood!
Reply-To empowering_democracy@no.address
From Tracey Rembert <traceyrembert@no.address>
Date Sat, 15 Feb 2003 212149 -0500

-----Original Message-----
From Chris O'Brien
Sent Saturday, February 08, 2003 408 PM

This is apparently the first local law passed that outlaws the recognition of corporations as people. Much of the power wielded by corporations today comes from their legal protections that stem from their treatment as citizens with constitutional rights. Laws like this could be a very effective strategy for shifting power away from corporations and back to democratic governance by real live people.

Porter Township ordinance attracts national attention
By Tom DiStefano, CLARION NEWS Writer

LIMESTONE - The supervisors of Porter Township, Clarion County, made history in December, and their actions are attracting nationwide attention, according to Tom Linzey, head of an organization that assists local governments in environmental issues.

On Dec. 6, the township adopted what Linzey said is the first ordinance in the nation declaring that corporations are not people. The ordinance was drafted by Linzey¹s organization, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), based in Chambersburg, in partnership with the Program on Corporations, Law, and Democracy (POCLAD).

Linzey spoke to a crowd of about 100 in the Limestone Fire Hall at a meeting sponsored by local groups battling proposals to spread sewage sludge as fertilizer on farms in southern Clarion County.

Porter Township adopted an ordinance in September that required each truckload of sludge brought into the township be tested for compliance with state regulations. The sludge spreader must pay the cost of the testing.
Several other local townships followed suit by adopting similar ordinance last year.

Porter took an extra step and adopted what is known as the "Corporate Personhood Elimination and Democracy Protection Ordinance," as part of a defensive strategy in case the township was sued over the sludge testing ordinance, Linzey said.

Linzey said suits against townships have been brought over attempts to regulate sewage sludge and factory farms. These suits include, as part of their justification, the claim that corporations have the same Constitutional rights as human beings.

The Porter Township ordinance counters that by declaring that, within the township, "Corporations shall not be considered to be 'persons¹ protected by the Constitution of the United States or the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania"

Linzey said CELDF drafted the ordinance when it realized "we can¹t have democracy when large corporations wield their legal rights against communities to deny the rights of citizens to build sustainable communities."

"If corporations can veto local decisions, we can¹t get to democracy,"
Linzey said.

The concept is important when dealing with sludge and factory farm issues, which often pit small, rural municipalities against large corporations.

Linzey outlined some of the background and history that led to the "personhood" ordinance.

In the 1990¹s a teenage boy died of a massive infection after riding an ATV on a field that has been spread with sewage sludge.

The incident happened in Rush Township, Clearfield County, and the township supervisors there responded by adopting the state¹s first sewage sludge testing ordinance, a forerunner to Porter Township¹s sludge ordinance.

Synagro Corporation, the contractor that spread the sludge, promptly sued Rush Township for violating Synagro¹s constitutional rights. Synagro also sued the township¹s supervisors personally for $1 million each.

When the Rush Township supervisors were told of the suit, "one township supervisor said, 'what the hell are the constitutional rights of corporations?' " Linzey recalled.

Linzey traced the idea back several hundred years. In colonial America, there were few corporations, but they were large and powerful. Many of the original colonies were founded by the large British exploratory corporations, such as the Hudson¹s Bay Company.

It was these large corporations which pressured England to levy a tax on tea; a decision which led to the Boston Tea Party and a general revolt by American colonists.

After the American Revolution, Linzey said, "corporations were kept on a tight leash. One corporation could not own another corporation. Now that practice is so widespread we can¹t tell who owns what."

In the early days of the US, corporations could only be formed to undertake public projects, and could only exist for a given period of time. To be re-chartered after the time was up, they had to show they existed for the general public good.

At one time, the directors and officers of a corporation could be held personally responsible for the actions of the corporation. Now, Linzey said, the directors and officers are shielded from personal responsibility, and the corporations themselves are shielded by setting up other corporations.

Corporations gradually regained favor and power in the US, and in 1886, the US Supreme Court, with no explanation, declared that corporations had the same rights as people. Known as the Santa Clara Decision, the ruling involved a legal dispute between the Union Pacific Railroad, then one of the most powerful corporations in the nation, and the government of Santa Clara County, California, over property tax assessments.

Linzey said he expects that, eventually, the issue will find its way back to the Supreme Court, perhaps eight to 12 years from now.

While Porter Township is the first municipality in the nation to adopt an anti-corporate personhood ordinance, "it won¹t be the last," Linzey said.
"The phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from other local governments."

The ordinance is simple. Most of the three pages it fills are about the history of the issue and the justification of the ordinance. The key element is the one paragraph saying corporations do not have the rights of persons.

But the ordinance represents a "change in the paradigm" of the way local governments and community groups battle undesirable projects sponsored by large corporations.

Currently, the battles often revolve around permits issued and regulations set by state agencies. Such matters often end up before the Environmental Hearing Board, an administrative law court that hears disputes over DEP regulations and decisions.

Linzey said 90 percent of the cases brought to the EHB involve appeals brought by corporations seeking to force the DEP to issue permits for their projects. The history of EHB decisions is such that "it is delusion think the EHB will support the citizens," Linzey said.

"When you appeal a permit, you are playing by their rules."

Municipalities and community groups are now looking more to making and passing local laws rather than appealing state agency decisions. "Because they realize that if they don¹t make their own law, others will do it for them," Linzey said.

And corporate interests have 70 full-time lobbyists in Harrisburg, pushing legislators to enact law in the corporate interest, he added.

By denying corporate personhood, the focus can be shifted to basic concepts of power, Linzey said.

"People are getting excited," he said. "They don¹t have to get mired in the details of regulations. Instead they can start talking about democracy and self-determination."

"The real question is 'what do we want.¹ We¹re not used to asking that question. We¹re used to others deciding for us," Linzey said.

Corporations are interested in rights spelled out in the First, Fourth, and Fifth amendments to the US Constitution. The First Amendment gives corporations, under the right of free speech, the right to give money to election campaigns and buy ads for political candidates.

Corporations claim the Fourth Amendment shields them from unannounced inspections; the Fifth Amendment gives them just compensation and due process rights.

"These rights are used in the (lawsuits against municipalities) to insure their profits and to deny the rights of citizens to build safe and secure communities and to be safe in our homes," Linzey said.

"That¹s what this is about ­ who is in charge."

And the effort to have "corporate personhood" ordinances adopted is just beginning. Linzey said CELDF has already revamped and expanded a model ordinance to cover other legal matters, such as contracts. The model ordinance is almost ready to present to local governments for consideration.

Asked how the Supreme Court¹s 1886 Santa Clara Decision might be overturned, Linzey said it would take "a very large movement of people, working on a number of issues, to focus on corporate power."

A new decision could develop out of a case involving an ordinance similar to Porter Township¹s personhood ordinance. Another possibility would be a constitutional amendment.

Linzey said Porter Township is attracting wide attention, including reports in the Los Angeles Times and other national publications.

The story, as well as model ordinance drafts, are showing up on web sites across the country.

A copy of the model ordinance, and other information on the corporate personhood issue, can be found on CELDF¹s website at

Dave Bonta
PO Box 68
Tyrone, PA 16686

Gary Liss
Fax: 916-652-0485

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