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[greenyes] Fwd: PA town outlaws corporate personhood
- Subject: [greenyes] Fwd: PA town outlaws corporate personhood
- From: Gary Liss <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Date: Mon, 17 Feb 2003 09:21:34 -0800
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
From Amita Lonial <email@example.com>
Date Mon, 17 Feb 2003 095253 -0600
Subject [empowering_democracy] FW PA township rules against corporate
From Tracey Rembert <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date Sat, 15 Feb 2003 212149 -0500
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
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,"
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
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
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
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
But the ordinance represents a "change in the paradigm" of the way local
governments and community groups battle undesirable projects sponsored by
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
"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
"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
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 www.celdf.org.
PO Box 68
Tyrone, PA 16686
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