FREEDOM — A majority of residents at the annual Town Meeting on Saturday expressed their dissatisfaction with corporate funding of political campaigns when they took a non-binding vote in support of abolishing corporate personhood.
The town will now send a letter to President Barack Obama and Maine’s congressional delegates to urge them to amend the U.S. Constitution to state that corporations do not have the same rights as people. The ultimate goal is to require corporations to disclose their contributions to political campaigns, events and advertisements.
About 65 people attended the meeting at Dirigo Grange, but not all people supported the resolution. Scott Holmes was one of several people who spoke against it.
“To amend the Constitution doesn’t sit well with me,” he said. “I think it should stay the way it is.”
Sarah Bicknell, a Unity College student who lives in Freedom, organized the petition to bring the measure to a vote at the Town Meeting.
She said her effort was largely a reaction to a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that the government may not limit corporations’ political spending. The Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money, without disclosure, on campaigns.
Resident Doug Van Horn argued in response to Holmes that the Constitution has been amended before.
“The Supreme Court has the right to change our Constitution, and it has done that in this particular case. We are asking essentially to … counteract what the Supreme Court has done,” he said.
Resident Martha Story-Foisy argued in favor of the resolution, saying it would send a message “that we don’t like what’s happening as far as these corporations getting involved in our election process and really, in some cases, buying elections.”
First Selectman Ron Price said that while the vote was non-binding, he didn’t like the idea of the whole town making a political statement. And he would have preferred a private vote at the polls, he said.
Resident Mary Spinelli agreed. “I don’t think anything should be sent concerning all the people of the town because a lot of us didn’t like that. There weren’t a lot of people here today,” she said.
Selectman Brian Jones argued that a movement supported by people at a Town Meeting is a good way to effect political change.
“It shouldn’t have to start at the state Legislature … If you’re calling for a change to the Constitution, this is where it should start,” he said.
Those who supported the 5-4 Supreme Court decision two years ago said it was a victory for the First Amendment right of free speech. They said the government should not regulate the political speech of companies.
Those who opposed the ruling said that companies are not people with a right to free speech and that a flood of corporate money to political campaigns could lead to corruption.
In other Town Meeting business, residents approved changes to part of an ordinance and zoning map to allow renovation of a former grist mill at the end of Freedom Pond. There was no discussion on the items, which will allow Camden resident Tony Grassi to continue his project to refurbish the historic building, generate electricity at the site, and draw in two commercial tenants.
Residents did not follow the budget committee’s recommendation to raise no money for the fire department’s capital improvement account and instead voted to put $15,000 into the savings account.
Residents authorized selectmen to look into borrowing up to $400,000 to rebuild and pave town roads. They will vote at a special town meeting or referendum on the specifics.
An amended proposal to abolish a 2 percent discount to property owners who pay their taxes within 30 days failed. The 2 percent discount, which Jones explains costs the town $6,895 but acts as an incentive for people to pay early, will remain.
After some debate, residents also approved spending $2,500 to continue to renovate the Old Meeting House. Some people said the project was a luxury in a difficult time, while others argued that it was an investment for a possible future museum and that $2,500 would help match grant funds.
Voters approved $149,750 for town administration, $5,000 for general assistance, $7,521 for public safety, $179,595 for public works, $10,109 for recreation, $52,485 for solid waste disposal and $26,893 for fire department operations.
They agreed to increase the cost of dump stickers from $1.25 to $1.50 per sticker and to expend up to $15,000 from a capital improvement account to purchase a used plow truck.
Selectman Clint Spaulding won re-election with 88 votes to Frances Silenzi-Walker’s 79 votes.
Residents supported enacting the town’s first comprehensive plan, 133-35.
Erin Rhoda — 612-2368