President Abraham Lincoln warned about the growing power of corporate entities in 1864 when he prophetically stated:
“…I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”
Though the election results were disappointing in hoping that a newly-composed state legislature might seek appropriate accountability of FirstEnergy Corporation over the bribery scandal to pass House Bill (HB) 6, there are other tracks that can and must be pursued.
It’s been more than two years since FirstEnergy’s scheme was exposed of spending more than $60 million to bribe former House Speaker Larry Householder and other top government officials to pass energy legislation potentially worth $1.3 billion to the corporation — described as “likely the largest bribery, money laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio” by U.S. Attorney David M. DeVillers, who charged Householder and four others with racketeering. Householder and former Ohio Republican Party Chair Matt Borges have pleaded not guilty.
Despite FirstEnergy’s admission of guilt that it — the corporation — was responsible for funneling the $60 million in bribes, the company has, to date, not been held accountable proportionately for its magnitude of democratic damage. The will of the people for clean energy to ensure a livable earth, for their voices to be heard by public officials not corrupted by bribes and to overturn HB6 via a citizen-driven referendum were all squashed by the admitted bribery of FirstEnergy Corporation.
The announced federal fine of $230 million last year to the company is a joke. While it may sound impressive to the average person, the fine is less than the $334 million in FirstEnergy earnings in the third quarter of 2022 alone.
An appropriate response to the scale of the harm to Ohioans, our communities and to democracy itself is nothing short of dissolving the company — a fairly common action by the Ohio legislature and courts in the past.
In one decision, The State ex rel v. The C.N.O. & T.P Ry. Co , to dissolve a company, the Ohio Supreme Court stated:
The corporation has received vitality from the state; it continues during its existence to be the creature of the state; must live subservient to its laws, and has such powers and franchises as those laws have bestowed upon it, and none others. As the state was not bound to create it in the first place, it is not bound to maintain it after having done so, if it violates the laws or public policy of the state, or misuses its franchises to oppress the citizens thereof.
This is the language of self-governing people who understand that we possess the ultimate power and authority over our legal creations that transcend mere fines or other weak measures.
Attorney General David Yost filed suit in September 2020 in Franklin County against FirstEnergy, several of its top executives and other entities under the Ohio Corrupt Practices Act. It calls for “each Defendant business entity and nonprofit entity to be dissolved…”
The state suit has been on hold since late last year, due to the concern that the depositions of some individual defendants might adversely affect federal case against these same individuals.
Waiting and stalling are common tactics among the power elite to avoid accountability in the political and judicial arenas. The further away from the actual unjust, violent or illegal action when the public is paying attention and/or mobilized to call for accountability, the easier it is to strike a deal for minimal penalties.
That can’t happen in this case. FirstEnergy’s actions have been too extreme, destructive and undemocratic not to demand appropriate accountability — dissolution of the corporate entity.
Two options are called for.
- Attorney General Yost needs to refile the lawsuit, separating the dissolving of FirstEnergy and other defendant business entities from the civil actions against the named individual defendants. This separation will allow the proceeding against FirstEnergy to move ahead.
- If Yost is unwilling to take such action, then there needs to be a separate suit by one or more individuals who have standing (i.e. FirstEnergy customers).
If the first option is pursued, the filing by Yost will by definition have to eliminate all references to other options listed to hold FirstEnergy accountable. This includes not only to dissolve the company, but the inadequate option that the company be “reorganized such that no agent, officer or representative found to have engaged in actions in furtherance of retains a position within the defendant business or nonprofit entity,” among other sections addressing individual defendants as opposed to the corporate entity itself.
Corporate executives and attorneys have for more than a century hijacked several Constitutional Amendments intended to apply solely to human beings claiming never-intended corporate “constitutional rights” — that is, that the corporate entity is a separate legal “person” apart from individuals connecting to it.
While individual FirstEnergy defendants have claimed their innocence, the corporate entity has admitted its guilt, no doubt expecting that a small fine and housecleaning of a few executives and board members will be sufficient “punishment.”
Individuals connected to the historic FirstEnergy bribery scandal absolutely must be held accountable. So does the self-described corporate “person.” The appropriate response to affirm the power, authority and right of We the People to define and hold accountable our legal creations is the dissolution of the corporation.
Greg Coleridge is Co-Director of the national Move to Amend campaign, a former member of the national governing board of Common Cause, and director of the Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee. Email: [email protected]
This commentary was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.