FREEDOM — Residents will vote at Town Meeting in March whether to ask President Barack Obama and Maine’s congressional delegates to amend the U.S. Constitution to declare that corporations do not have the same rights as people.

Freedom resident Sarah Bicknell, 23, presented enough petition signatures to selectmen on Monday to put the non-binding measure before voters.

Driven by a variety of reasons — including the metaphor the town’s name brings to the issue, in addition to the Occupy Movement and similar votes happening nationwide — Bicknell said the ultimate goal of her efforts is to require the disclosure of corporate contributors to political campaigns, events and advertisements.

“The actual petition and passing of a resolution is completely non-binding. It’s more of a statement against corporate funding of campaigns,” Bicknell, a Unity College student, said Tuesday.

She collected the signatures with her partner and Freedom resident, Adam Cram.

Bicknell said the petition was in part 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.

Andrew Ketterer, a former Maine attorney general, legislator and chairman of the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices, said pushback from people across the country “has really been significant because extending that First Amendment right of free speech to all corporations really changes the playing field in favor of major corporations and downplays the interests of people such as you and me.”

Amending the Constitution to counteract the Supreme Court ruling is a difficult task and rightfully so, he said. But he added that the efforts of people across the country, now including some in Freedom, are valuable whether they are successful or not.

“Any time you can get citizens involved in the political process and going to debates, talking about critical issues that face the state, engaging in that discourse and debate, I think it’s a positive thing no matter how it turns out,” 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.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who supported the decision, wrote that there is “no basis for allowing the government to limit corporate independent expenditures.”

Justice John Paul Stevens, who opposed the decision, wrote, “In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it.”

The Portland City Council has voted in favor of a non-binding resolution calling on Maine’s congressional delegation to support an amendment to the Constitution abolishing “corporate personhood.” Cities across the U.S. have taken similar votes, including Los Angeles, Calif., and Missoula, Mont.

And, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., introduced a constitutional amendment to the U.S. Senate in December that would overturn the Citizens United ruling.

Freedom Selectman Brian Jones said it’s important for residents to have an opportunity to speak about the issue at town meeting.

“You don’t have to look very far to see the influence of money in politics and its negative impact,” he said.

Freedom Town Clerk Cynthia Abbot said she validated 34 petition signatures, enough to put the measure before voters at the town meeting, which will be at 10 a.m., Saturday, March 10, at the Dirigo Grange. There are 564 registered voters in the Waldo County town.

If passed, the resolution would direct the selectmen to forward a copy of the declaration to Obama, U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, U.S. Rep. Michaud, D-2nd District, and all members of the Maine State House and Senate, according to Jones.

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368

[email protected]


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