The corporate 'personhood' question might be on ballot

Local residents who are upset by a Supreme Court decision that granted corporations "personhood" status and opened the floodgates on campaign spending may try to put the issue before Ashland voters.

In a compromise move, the Ashland City Council already voted last week to support a resolution stating its support for a constitutional amendment affirming that Congress and the states have the right to regulate campaign contributions.

That might not be good enough for activists who want a constitutional amendment eliminating "personhood" status for corporations.

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court said in a 5-4 decision that corporations and unions have the right to make unlimited indirect political contributions because they have the same rights as individual people. The court viewed contributions as constitutionally protected free speech.

Local activist Keith Haxton, who previously helped organize an Occupy Ashland protest, told City Council members last week that the compromise resolution they adopted doesn't go far enough.

He and several others said they may try to get an initiative on the ballot on the corporate personhood issue.

Residents could then directly express their views that they support a constitutional amendment that would overturn the personhood ruling.

Ashland City Recorder Barbara Christensen said on Tuesday that she had spoken to an activist about the process for getting an initiative on the ballot, but concerned residents had yet to formally file paperwork to start the process.

To get the issue on the ballot, they must collect 1,694 valid signatures of registered Ashland voters, Christensen said.

People collecting signatures for ballot measures always need to gather more than the required amount because some signatures will be found invalid. Some come from voters who aren't registered, for example, or whose signatures don't match their voter registration cards.

Ashland has elections planned this year in May, September and November, Christensen said.

Some Ashland City Council members said that at a future council meeting they might be willing to discuss putting the issue on the ballot themselves. A council majority could take that step, making it unnecessary for concerned residents to gather signatures.

Some council members said they would like residents to start the process before deciding whether to have the council intervene and put the issue on the ballot.

Not everyone thinks citizens need to seek constitutional amendments to overturn the personhood ruling or put limits on campaign spending.

Resident Michael Dawkins said voters need to think for themselves and not be swayed by all the spending on campaign advertising.

"If attack ads work, why? If money is spent to buy your vote, why are you allowing it?" Dawkins said.

A number of other cities have passed resolutions expressing their disapproval of the Supreme Court's 2010 personhood ruling, including Portland, Los Angeles and New York City.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or

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