Youngstown Residents Push to Oust Corporations from Election Campaigns, Cap Contributions at $100

Rural America In These Times

After several attempts to ban fracking in Youngstown, Ohio, the community rights movement is focusing on ending outside industry contributions to local election campaigns.

In their sev­enth attempt to put an end to the envi­ron­men­tal threats the oil and gas indus­try pose to their land, water and right to self-gov­er­nance, a com­mu­ni­ty rights group in Youngstown, Ohio, is attempt­ing to amend their city’s char­ter in order to ban cor­po­rate inter­fer­ence in their local elections. 

With assis­tance from the Com­mu­ni­ty Envi­ron­men­tal Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) — a non-prof­it, pub­lic inter­est law firm that pro­vides legal ser­vices to com­mu­ni­ties fac­ing out­side threats to their local envi­ron­ment, local agri­cul­ture, local econ­o­my and qual­i­ty of life — the Youngstown Com­mu­ni­ty Bill of Rights Com­mit­tee has gath­ered and sub­mit­ted the sig­na­tures required to get the ini­tia­tive, explained below, on their Novem­ber ballot. 

The Aug. 7 CELDF press release, in part, reads:

For Imme­di­ate Release:

Today, a long-stand­ing com­mu­ni­ty rights group in Youngstown, Ohio, sub­mit­ted over 1,900 sig­na­tures to qual­i­fy their Youngstown Fair Elec­tion Bill of Rights ini­tia­tive for the Novem­ber bal­lot. The mea­sure is the first of its kind in the state, lim­it­ing cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions to reg­is­tered vot­ers with­in the City, and cap­ping those con­tri­bu­tions at $100.

The Youngstown Com­mu­ni­ty Bill of Rights Com­mit­tee draft­ed the ini­tia­tive with the sup­port of the Com­mu­ni­ty Envi­ron­men­tal Legal Defense Fund (CELDF). CELDF has been assist­ing Youngstown res­i­dents to advance their demo­c­ra­t­ic and envi­ron­men­tal rights since 2013, when res­i­dents launched their com­mu­ni­ty rights work to pro­tect them­selves from frack­ing activ­i­ties. Frack­ing threat­ens their drink­ing water and has caused earth­quakes in the area. 

We have fought to keep frack­ing projects out of our City for sev­er­al years, with six bal­lot mea­sures that assert­ed our right to clean water and to local com­mu­ni­ty self-gov­ern­ment,” says Lynn Ander­son, a lead orga­niz­er with the Youngstown Com­mit­tee. We have been vast­ly out­spent by indus­try and their cor­po­rate allies. It is clear to us that we are try­ing to advance rights via the bal­lot in an elec­tion sys­tem set up to favor cor­po­ra­tions. This time, we’re address­ing the elec­tion sys­tem too.”

The ini­tia­tive states that the peo­ple of Youngstown rec­og­nize that cor­po­ra­tions use their dis­pro­por­tion­ate wealth to frame impor­tant issues and influ­ence elec­tions.” There­fore, the mea­sure removes cor­po­ra­tions from the elec­tion process. It also places can­di­date selec­tion in the hands of vot­ers rather than pow­er­ful polit­i­cal par­ties. It rein­forces the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers between the judi­cia­ry and oth­er branch­es of gov­ern­ment by remov­ing the initiative’s con­tent as grounds for block­ing it from the bal­lot. Thus, if tech­ni­cal require­ments are met, ini­tia­tives must be placed before voters.

Tish O’Dell, the Ohio com­mu­ni­ty­or­ga­niz­er for CELDF, says, The right to com­mu­ni­ty self-gov­ern­ment is an inalien­able right — one that the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies fought and died to uphold. The right to vote is sup­posed to reflect our right to self-gov­ern­ment. In Youngstown, that right is ren­dered mean­ing­less when the peo­ple in the com­mu­ni­ty are out­spent in their issue cam­paigns 50:1 by cor­po­rate enti­ties. Res­i­dents are ready to lev­el the play­ing field and bring inalien­able rights back to the real peo­ple who live here.” 

The full peti­tion, also avail­able on the Youngstown Com­mu­ni­ty Bill of Rights Committee’s web­site, reads:


Con­sti­tu­tion of Ohio, Art. XVI­II, Sec­tions 9 and 14; Revised Code 731.28 — .41, 3503.06 To be signed by 10 per­cent of the elec­tors, based upon the total vote cast at the last pre­ced­ing gen­er­al munic­i­pal election.

NOTICE: Who­ev­er know­ing­ly signs this peti­tion more than once, signs a name oth­er than his own, or signs when not a legal vot­er, is liable to prosecution. 

To the Coun­cil, the Leg­isla­tive author­i­ty of the City of Youngstown, Ohio: 

We, the under­signed, qual­i­fied elec­tors of the City of Youngstown, Ohio, respect­ful­ly peti­tion the leg­isla­tive author­i­ty to forth­with pro­vide by Law, for the sub­mis­sion to the elec­tors of the City of Youngstown, Ohio, the fol­low­ing pro­posed amend­ment to the Char­ter of the City of Youngstown to be effec­tive as of the date of its adop­tion by a vote of the peo­ple of Youngstown, adding Sec­tion 133 under a new head­ing titled Youngstown Drink­ing Water Pro­tec­tion Bill of Rights, to-wit:

Where­as, we the peo­ple of Youngstown rec­og­nize that the con­tin­ued extrac­tion of fos­sil fuels uses increas­ing amounts of fresh water for the extrac­tion process, and cre­ates waste­water that can nev­er be returned safe­ly to the water cycle; and 

Where­as, we the peo­ple of Youngstown, rec­og­nize that both humans and the nat­ur­al com­mu­ni­ties and ecosys­tems in Youngstown require clean water, air, and soil to thrive and flourish; 

Where­as, we the peo­ple of Youngstown, through this amend­ment, seek to alter our form of gov­ern­ment to restore a sys­tem of local gov­ern­ment capa­ble of secur­ing our fun­da­men­tal rights and deriv­ing its just pow­ers from the con­sent of the peo­ple, as required by the foun­da­tion­al prin­ci­ples expressed in the Dec­la­ra­tion of Independence 

There­fore, we, the peo­ple of Youngstown, adopt this char­ter amend­ment rec­og­niz­ing and pro­tect­ing com­mu­ni­ty rights to safe drink­ing water and a healthy environment: 


(a) Right to Clean Water, Air, and Soil. All peo­ple of the city of Youngstown, along with ecosys­tems and nat­ur­al com­mu­ni­ties with­in the city, pos­sess the right to clean water, air, and soil, and to be free from activ­i­ties that would vio­late this right and expose cit­i­zens to the harm­ful effects of con­t­a­m­i­nants in their water sup­ply, includ­ing, but not lim­it­ed to, the drilling of new wells or extrac­tion of oil and gas using any tech­nol­o­gy not pre­vi­ous­ly used on an exist­ing well after the date of enact­ment of this amend­ment for oil and gas explo­ration and extrac­tion oper­a­tions, the dis­pos­al of drilling waste from oil and gas extrac­tion oper­a­tions, or the deposit­ing, stor­age, treat­ment, injec­tion, dis­pos­al, trans­port, or pro­cess­ing of waste­water, pro­duced water, frack” water, brine, drill cut­tings, and muds or oth­er sub­stances that have been used in, or result from, the extrac­tion of oil and gas.

(b) Right to Enforce­ment. The peo­ple of the City of Youngstown, and the nat­ur­al com­mu­ni­ties and ecosys­tems in Youngstown, pos­sess the right to enforce their rights, includ­ing those enu­mer­at­ed in this Amend­ment. If the City of Youngstown fails to enforce or defend this Amend­ment, or a court fails to uphold this Amend­ment, any nat­ur­al per­son may enforce this Amend­ment through non­vi­o­lent direct action or via a suit at law or in equi­ty as a pri­vate attor­ney gen­er­al plain­tiff, for dam­ages and costs of lit­i­ga­tion, includ­ing, with­out lim­i­ta­tion, expert and attor­ney fees. City of Youngstown law enforce­ment, and coop­er­at­ing agen­cies act­ing with­in the juris­dic­tion of the City of Youngstown, shall have no law­ful author­i­ty to sur­veil, detain, arrest, or oth­er­wise impede nat­ur­al per­sons enforc­ing these rights. Direct action” as used by this pro­vi­sion shall mean any non-vio­lent activ­i­ties car­ried out to direct­ly enforce the rights expressed in this Amendment. 

© Right to Enforce­ment Against Cor­po­rate Rights. Any cor­po­ra­tion, or oth­er busi­ness enti­ty, that vio­lates the rights in this Amend­ment shall not be deemed a per­son” to the extent that such treat­ment would inter­fere with the rights enu­mer­at­ed by this Amend­ment, nor shall it pos­sess any oth­er legal rights, pow­ers, priv­i­leges, immu­ni­ties, or duties that would inter­fere with the rights, includ­ing the pow­er to assert state, fed­er­al or inter­na­tion­al pre­emp­tive laws in an attempt to over­turn this Amend­ment, or the pow­er to assert that the peo­ple of the City of Youngstown lack the author­i­ty to adopt this Amendment.

(d) Right to Infra­struc­ture Invest­ments. As the res­i­dents of Youngstown pay for water and sew­er used plus addi­tion­al monies which are to be placed into improve­ment funds, the funds accu­mu­lat­ed in the water and sew­er fund” can only be spent on improve­ments to the water and sew­er infra­struc­ture and in updates to the sys­tem that will ben­e­fit the water sup­ply to the res­i­dents. None of these funds can be dis­trib­uted for pri­vate eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment projects with­in the city. 

(e) Right of Local Com­mu­ni­ty Self-Gov­ern­ment. The peo­ple of the City of Youngstown pos­sess the right of local com­mu­ni­ty self-gov­ern­ment, as expressed in the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence, the Unit­ed States Con­sti­tu­tion’s pre­am­ble and Ninth Amend­ment, and the Ohio Con­sti­tu­tion’s Bill of Rights, sec­tions 1, 2, and 20. The peo­ple’s right of local com­mu­ni­ty self-gov­ern­ment includes but is not lim­it­ed to their pow­er to com­pel their gov­ern­ments to pro­tect their rights, health, and safety. 

(f) Sev­er­abil­i­ty. The pro­vi­sions of this law are sev­er­able. If any court decides that any sec­tion, clause, sen­tence, part, or pro­vi­sion of this law is ille­gal, invalid, or uncon­sti­tu­tion­al, such deci­sion shall not affect, impair, or inval­i­date any of the remain­ing sec­tions, claus­es, sen­tences, parts, or pro­vi­sions of the law. This law would have been enact­ed with­out the invalid sections.

The City of Youngstown has 10 days to hold the peti­tions and then must advance them to the Mahon­ing Coun­ty Board of Elec­tions to cer­ti­fy the 1,900 signatures.

Dr. Tom Groover from the Col­orado Com­mu­ni­ty Rights Net­work (COCRN) dis­cuss­es the Youngstown Com­mu­ni­ty Bill of Rights Ini­tia­tive with Susie Beiers­dor­fer, a geol­o­gist, teacher and local orga­niz­er. (Video: Nation­al Com­mu­ni­ty Rights Net­work / YouTube)

(For addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion regard­ing peti­tion­ing com­mu­ni­ties, con­tact CELDF at info@​celdf.​org. To learn about the Ohio Com­mu­ni­ty Rights Net­work, vis­it ohiocrn​.org. To learn about the Com­mu­ni­ty Rights Move­ment, vis­it www​.celdf​.org. Dis­clo­sure: Thomas Linzey, co-founder and exec­u­tive direc­tor of CELDF, is a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to Rur­al Amer­i­ca In These Times.)

This blog’s mis­sion is to pro­vide the pub­lic ser­vice of help­ing make the issues that rur­al Amer­i­ca is grap­pling with part of nation­al discourse.
Subscribe and Save 66%

Less than $1.67 an issue