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[greenyes] Fwd: Corporations as "People" and Sustainability

From: "Amy J. Bann" <AB3039@no.address>
Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2003 13:16:02 -0500

A few thoughts on the topic...
Why is this campaign good for sustainability principles?  The broad legal
rights conferred on corporations allow them to, for example, hide their
practices such as resource exploitation or labor abuse in the name of "trade
secrets" and other privacy provisions, duck liability by subcontracting and
outsourcing, lobby political entitites with funds much vaster than an
individual consumer can match... in institutions such as NAFTA, a
corporation has a right to sue governments if it alleges that a social or
environmental law is impeding its profits-- while the community affected,
NGOs, and local government can not participate in the proceedings (only the
federal gov't.)...

The power imbalance between companies and local communities is egregious,
and few have presented viable alternative models of governance. It's great
to see any attempt to implement a reform strategy experiencing some level of

I'm not sure if I believe that local laws revoking corporate personhood are
the most effective way to begin this important initiative, because I have
concerns about its legal feasibility and capacity for widespread use (i.e.,
the campaigns would have to be nationally coordinated to make it work or
there might be a "race to the bottom" in which companies would flee to
places they retain full corporate personhood to operate).

However, I think it is a strategy well worth pursuing because of the reasons
Tracey mentioned: consumer shift, beginning grassroots and policy
transformation that could lead to effective legal change. Thom Hartmann
recently published the book "Unequal Protection: The rise of corporate
dominance and theft of human rights" on this strategy, for those who want
more detail on the history and current campaign.  see

Other related campaigns include-
The International Right-to-Know Campaign, a large coalition of NGOs, is
attempting to pass national legislation to require companies to disclose
their human rights, labor, and environmental impact abroad. This would help
empower local communities to organize and better address/ prevent risks they
face from corporate activities. see

Bob Hinckley, a former corporate lawyer, presented another interesting idea
at last April's ED conference: inserting a social clause into state laws
defining corporations so that shareholders will have to take public interest
into account as well as profit.

I commend all working on these extraordinarily complex issues.  While the
current political climate and administration are not encouraging, there is a
growing consciousness across that something must change with this scheme.
Sweeping legal change rarely occurs without preceding constructive debate
and widespread grassroots campaigns, so it's encouraging to see everyone's
interest and insight. I hope it will lead to effective reform for more
democratic, accountable corporate governance.

Regards, Amy Bann

-----Original Message-----
From: Gary Liss
To: empowering_democracy@no.address
Cc: William Dalessandro; zerowaste@no.address
Sent: 2/18/03 11:26 AM
Subject: [empowering_democracy] Fwd: Corporations as "People" and

Does anyone else have insight into this issue?

>From: Tracey Rembert <traceyrembert@no.address>
>To: 'Gary Liss' <gary@no.address>
>Subject: RE: Corporations as "People" and Sustainability
>Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2003 09:04:37 -0500
>The best people to respond to this are folks from POCLAD, who work on
>corporate personhood issues. But this local law doesn't strip
>rights from corps.--just those that apply to personhood. They still get
>protections under commercial speech, etc. But I think it is an
>step in getting consumers to recognize a shift--in that companies are
>entities--not people, and are artificailly created/constructed by us.
>begins the conversations that as such, they can be "uncreated" as well,
>their charters revoked. That was the original intent, in my opinion. It
>never happens anymore--revoking of charters. I'm sure that feds will
>in and say local legislation is stepping on federal toes, and they'll
quash it.
>But it gets communities behind the idea that corps are not untouchable.
>the people decide what powers they should have. I know this sounds
>idealistic, but mindshift here is definitely in order, along with other
>reforms taking place. Maybe send this around to whole list to see what
>response you get.
>-----Original Message-----
>From: Gary Liss [mailto:gary@no.address]
>Sent: Monday, February 17, 2003 3:55 PM
>To: traceyrembert@no.address
>Cc: zerowaste@no.address; amita@no.address;
>empowering_democracy@no.address; massie@no.address
>Subject: Corporations as "People" and Sustainability
>Would you be able to respond to this comment?  Please cc: me.  Thanks!
>Gary Liss
> >Date: Mon, 17 Feb 2003 12:36:18 -0500
> >From: William Dalessandro <wdalessandro@no.address>
> >To: gary@no.address
> >Subject: Empowering Democracy...
> >
> >Hello.  I fail to see how stripping corporations of certain legal
> >protections has much if anything to do with promoting sustainability.
> >mean, I am not passing judgment on the idea, but whether or not
> >have constitutional rights may, in some instances, actually hurt
> >sustainability principles, true?
> >
> >William D'Alessandro, Executive Editor
> >Victor House News Co.
> >P.O. Box 464
> >Amherst, NH 03031 USA
> >Tel: +1 603 672 5811
> >Fax: +1 603 672 5212
> >E-mail: wdalessandro@no.address
> >Date: Mon, 17 Feb 2003 09:21:34 -0800
> >To: greenyes@no.address
> >From: Gary Liss <gary@no.address>
> >Subject: Fwd: PA town outlaws corporate personhood
> >
> >Anyone interested in being the next community to adopt this policy?
> >first heard of this concept at an Empowering Democracy conference 2
> >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
> >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
> >democratic governance by real live people.
> >
> >Chris
> >----------
> >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
> >local governments in environmental issues.
> >
> >On Dec.  6, the township adopted what Linzey said is the first
> >in the nation declaring that corporations are not people.  The
> >was drafted by Linzey¹s organization, the Community Environmental
> >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
> >with state regulations.  The sludge spreader must pay the cost of the
> >Several other local townships followed suit by adopting similar
> >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
> >ordinance, Linzey said.
> >
> >Linzey said suits against townships have been brought over attempts
> >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
> >township, "Corporations shall not be considered to be 'persons¹
> >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
> >democracy when large corporations wield their legal rights against
> >communities to deny the rights of citizens to build sustainable
> >
> >"If corporations can veto local decisions, we can¹t get to
> >Linzey said.
> >
> >The concept is important when dealing with sludge and factory farm
> >which often pit small, rural municipalities against large
> >
> >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
> >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
> >sludge testing ordinance, a forerunner to Porter Township¹s sludge
> >
> >Synagro Corporation, the contractor that spread the sludge, promptly
> >Rush Township for violating Synagro¹s constitutional rights.  Synagro
> >sued the township¹s supervisors personally for $1 million each.
> >
> >When the Rush Township supervisors were told of the suit, "one
> >supervisor said, 'what the hell are the constitutional rights of
> >corporations?' " Linzey recalled.
> >
> >Linzey traced the idea back several hundred years.  In colonial
> >there were few corporations, but they were large and powerful.  Many
> >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
> >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
> >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
> >existed for the general public good.
> >
> >At one time, the directors and officers of a corporation could be
> >personally responsible for the actions of the corporation.  Now,
> >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
> >the US Supreme Court, with no explanation, declared that corporations
> >the same rights as people.  Known as the Santa Clara Decision, the
> >involved a legal dispute between the Union Pacific Railroad, then one
> >the most powerful corporations in the nation, and the government of
> >Clara County, California, over property tax assessments.
> >
> >Linzey said he expects that, eventually, the issue will find its way
> >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
> >"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
> >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
> >governments and community groups battle undesirable projects
sponsored by
> >large corporations.
> >
> >Currently, the battles often revolve around permits issued and
> >set by state agencies.  Such matters often end up before the
> >Hearing Board, an administrative law court that hears disputes over
> >regulations and decisions.
> >
> >Linzey said 90 percent of the cases brought to the EHB involve
> >brought by corporations seeking to force the DEP to issue permits for
> >their projects.  The history of EHB decisions is such that "it is
> >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
> >passing local laws rather than appealing state agency decisions.
> >they realize that if they don¹t make their own law, others will do it
> >them," Linzey said.
> >
> >And corporate interests have 70 full-time lobbyists in Harrisburg,
> >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
> >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
> >question.  We¹re used to others deciding for us," Linzey said.
> >
> >Corporations are interested in rights spelled out in the First,
> >and Fifth amendments to the US Constitution.  The First Amendment
> >corporations, under the right of free speech, the right to give money
> >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
> >their profits and to deny the rights of citizens to build safe and
> >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
> >beginning.  Linzey said CELDF has already revamped and expanded a
> >ordinance to cover other legal matters, such as contracts.  The model
> >ordinance is almost ready to present to local governments for
> >
> >Asked how the Supreme Court¹s 1886 Santa Clara Decision might be
> >overturned, Linzey said it would take "a very large movement of
> >working on a number of issues, to focus on corporate power."
> >
> >A new decision could develop out of a case involving an ordinance
> >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
> >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
> >814.684.3113
>Gary Liss
>Fax: 916-652-0485

Gary Liss
Fax: 916-652-0485

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