A resolution by the County Council urging Congress to pass a Constitutional amendment declaring that corporations are not people and money is not speech passed the County Council today, but only after a lot of complaining by county councilors. Several councilors expressed reservations or outright opposition to the bill before it finally passed, 6-3.
Resolution 266-15 stemmed from Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which gutted protections against excessive corporate spending in elections. The resolution got overwhelming support from residents who testified on it.
“The vast majority of the American population is completely angry and completely alienated…. We will believe corporations are people when corporations are in prisons,” said one. Another noted that in the early days of the United States corporations “weren’t for profit. They were for a single project and they were terminated when the project was done,” and that the constitution had never mentioned them, much less granted them the status of legal human beings, as Citizens United and other Supreme Court decisions had.
State Senator Russell Ruderman, testifying for himself, urged the passage of the resolution. “The whole political system has become Obscene in terms of the cost of competing,” he noted. “They might as well put it on ESPN and call it a sport.”
“Giving corporations the same rights as citizens is the biggest single threat to our democracy,” testified Justin Avery. “…All of the hard work that was done in this county to build a healthy, vibrant democracy was shot down by a 5-4 court decision in the Washington, DC.”
But the testimony didn’t convince some council members.
“I will be voting no, not because I’m voting for crooked government…,”maintained Hilo Councilor Aaron Chung. “What I find wrong about this amendment is that it vilifies corporations…the main problem is that we have this wealth gap…. We see it even on this island, where the rich sometimes try to use their muscle. “ But at another point in his speech, he identified a different problem: “The problem isn’t the corporations, it’s the Super PACs” (enormously wealthy political action committees—which, one supporter of the amendment pointed out afterward, had been allowed to grow so huge and wealthy because of the Citizens United decision).
Councilor Daniel Paleka, (Western Puna), said he was “taken aback” by Citizens United, but he identified another problem as more important: voter apathy caused by long election cycles: “If you look at American Politics from outside of America, many friends of mine from outside the states say the election period is just too damn long.”
Greggor Ilagan (Eastern Puna) echoed Chung’s comments, noting that the title of the bill singled out corporations as a culprit: “I will be voting no as well, but if you change that title, I will support it whole-heartedly.”
Dennis Onishi (South Hilo, Kea’au) and Chair Dru Kanuha (Portions of North and South Kona) also expressed some reservations about the bill, but still voted for it, as did Maile David (South Kona-Ka’u-Volcano), Valerie Poindexter, Margaret Wille (Kohala) and sponsor Karen Eoff (North Kona). A companion resolution, 267-15, which urges the Hawaii State Association of Cunties to also enact a resolution supporting the constitutional amendment, passed by a 7-2 margin after Ilagan switched sides.