In a unanimous vote, members of the Oak Harbor City Council joined a nationwide, grassroots movement aimed at amending the U.S. Constitution to allow the regulation of corporate political spending.
The council’s decision last week represented a coup for a small group of Island County residents who’ve worked over the last year to educate local elected officials about the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC.
Marshall Goldberg, a member of the group Citizens Ignited Against Citizens United, said Island County is the first county in the state to have its county board and the councils of all municipalities sign on to resolutions opposed to Citizens United.
“We have bragging rights,” he said. “Clearly there is a lot of support in the county for what we are doing. I think people realize what a corrupting influence this unlimited money has on our elections.”
Dianna MacLeod, a Langley resident and member of Citizens Ignited, said there’s “a tsunami of activity” across the nation since the high court’s 2010 decision.
“We all have a common interest in preserving the democratic process by which we elect people,” she said.
By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have the same rights as people to unrestricted spending on political speech.
Critics predicted an avalanche of undisclosed political spending.
The Center for Responsive Politics reported that the amount of outside political spending excluding party committees — which includes Super PACS, unions and corporations — skyrocketed from $200 million in the 2004 election cycle to well over $1 billion in the 2012 cycle.
Goldberg pointed out that polls show that the majority of Americans, regardless of political party, are opposed to the ruling. A Hart Research survey found that 79 percent of Americans support passage of a constitutional amendment to overturn the ruling and make clear that corporations do not have the same rights as people.
Oak Harbor is the 12th municipality in the state to pass a resolution supporting a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United; nationwide more than 600 municipalities have signed on. Island County is one of three counties in the state to have passed a resolution.
Since forming in April of 2012, the members of Citizens Ignited gathered 1,750 signatures from Island County registered voters on an advisory petition.
“We came at this with the idea of having a conversation with them,” she said.
Elected officials in Langley, Coupeville, Oak Harbor and on the board of county commissioners passed resolutions calling for a Constitution amendment to allow the regulation of political contributions and expenditures. Commissioner Kelly Emerson, a Republican, cast the only vote in opposition.
Goldberg emphasized the grassroots nature of the effort.
“It sets a good example for citizenship and democracy in action,” he said.
MacLeod said she helped created a presentation that a select number of the members presented to elected officials. They focused on clarity, the gravity of their concern and a sense of calm in educating the officials.
MacLeod said some elected officials were concerned that Citizens United could have repercussions in places like Island County.
“Big money would have a big difference here,” she said.
Last Tuesday, city council members were unequivocal in their support. Councilman Bob Severns said he spent 40 years in the corporate, for-profit world and has seen how politically active corporations can be.
“Corporations are not human beings,” he read aloud from the resolution, “and only human beings are endowed with Constitutional rights.”
“I agree wholeheartedly with John McCain when he said it was the worst decision ever by the Supreme Court,” Councilwoman Tara Hizon said.
Councilman Joel Servatius thanked Goldberg for his professionalism and his knowledge on the issue.
Goldberg said an amendment can happen in two basic ways. The first method requires the two-thirds vote of both the House and the Senate, followed by the ratification of three-quarter of the state legislatures.
The other is a Constitutional Convention called by two-thirds of the state legislatures.
It may seem like a high bar, Goldberg said, but it’s happened 17 times since the Bill of Rights was ratified.
“The timeframe is just a matter of what political winds are blowing,” he said.