Jackson County commissioners butted heads with local activists at a meeting this week, refusing to lend their philosophical support to a movement over whether corporate power should be reined in.
A local offshoot of the Occupy movement called on commissioners to pass a resolution of support for their cause — namely to reduce corporate influence and power and instead make government beholden to the common man. But, commissioners voted 3-2 along party lines not to sign on.
The group has been taking their message on the road, visiting town and county boards, as part of the nationwide Move to Amend movement. Their goal, along with other chapters across the nation, is to spark a groundswell of support that could ultimately prompt Congress to pass a constitutional amendment limiting corporate spending in the electoral process. The Supreme Court ruled that corporations could spend unlimited amounts in campaigns, prompting fear that politicians will become even more indebted to corporate money.
Locally, town boards in Franklin, Highlands and Bryson City approved Move to Amend’s resolution. The group has asked to come before the boards in Dillsboro, Sylva and in Macon and Swain counties and hopes to do so soon.
While Move to Amend has seen unanimous support from leaders of other boards they appeared before, they weren’t so lucky in Jackson County this week, the home county for many of the activists.
Commissioner Joe Cowan made a motion that Jackson County approve the amendment submitted by the group. Rising to his feet, Cowan rendered a somewhat impassioned speech against the original Supreme Court decision.
“It basically said money can have a voice,” Cowan said. “And that corporations are people. And I don’t agree with either of those propositions … somebody is buying influence and we don’t know who that is.”
Cowan, a Democrat, said that he did not believe this was a Democrat versus Republican issue, though that’s exactly how the debate promptly framed itself. The resolution failed by a 3-2 vote.
Commissioner Doug Cody said that he wouldn’t vote for a resolution that singled out corporations unless it also included such groups as political action committees, labor unions, lobbyists — and even the Canary Coalition for that matter, the group headed by Avram Friedman, a member of Move to Amend.
“I will not be a party to something or of legislation that calls for the discrimination of any people or group,” Cody said, adding that he found such an idea “despicable.”
“If someone will come back with a resolution that asks for barring all lobbyist and PACs, I’ll sign it,” he said.
Commissioner Charles Elders said that he agreed with Cody. Chairman Jack Debnam simply described himself as “tired of being browbeat” by the Move to Amend folks over the issue. The group has been vocal in their quest to get face time with the commissioners, raising a ruckus when the county initially would not put them on.
Friedman thanked commissioners for placing the issue on the agenda though he described himself as disappointed by the resulting vote.
“This is truly a nonpartisan issue,” Friedman said, adding that the resolution would cover other groups such as the ones described by Cody. Friedman also made the point that as a 501(c)3 nonprofit the Canary Coalition can’t make political donations anyway.
Another Move to Amend group member, Lucy Christopher, also described herself as disappointed and said that she hoped discussion over the issue would continue.
“I hope that we can sit down around a table and talk,” said Christopher, who lives in Jackson County.
That, frankly, seems unlikely to happen, however.