The resolution asks Congress to prepare and send to the states a Constitutional amendment that would in effect reverse the 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
The resolution requests the amendment to stipulate that only human beings, and not corporations, are “persons” under the U.S. Constitution. The resolution also says that “money is not speech and the donation of money to a political campaign is not a form of constitutionally protected speech.”
In this landmark case, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, determined that corporations and unions have the same First Amendment right to free speech as a living, breathing person. Because of that right, the government cannot restrict these large entities from making independent political expenditures before elections.
Critics worry the influx of cash into political campaigns will give corporations even greater political reach, while the influence of the average citizen will be diminished.
Commissioners Helen Price Johnson and Angie Homola supported the resolution. Commissioner Kelly Emerson voted against it, saying that a constitutional amendment would also affect nonprofits like the Sierra Club.
“Perhaps we should address this problem by creating a government that lacks the power to reward undue influence,” Emerson said.
Emerson said she advocates for a “limited government that cannot determine whether someone succeeds or fails in life,” rather than stifle free speech. Johnson noted that many small business owners across the country support the proposed amendment.
Marshall Goldberg, a member of a local group called Citizens Ignited, spoke in favor of the resolution. The group gathered 1,400 voter signatures in favor of the measure.
“It is incumbent upon all of us to take a stand,” Goldberg said. “(The Island County commissioners) represent our voice in other parts of our government.”
Jeff Lauderdale, the Republican candidate for the Dist. 1 commissioner seat, voiced his opposition to the resolution, saying the signatures only represent about one percent of Island County voters.
“The idea that money is not speech, I don’t agree with,” Lauderdale said. “Otherwise we wouldn’t have the old adage ‘Put your money where your mouth is.’”
Lauderdale said people who support the amendment should send their petitions, signatures and influence directly to the offices that they are trying to influence, rather than asking the county commissioners to intervene.
Such an amendment must be ratified by three-fourths of the states.
At the meeting, Clinton resident Dan Freeman said local elected officials “are our expression,” and reiterated that money is not speech.
“The more people have in the way of property, i.e. money, doesn’t necessarily mean they have my interest, i.e. a human being, at heart,” Freeman said.
Citizens Ignited member Paulette Becker said the huge amount of corporate money in politics is “affecting what people really want” and that “anybody with more money, more assets in this country, will then run our electoral process.”
South Whidbey political gadfly Rufus Rose questioned why the resolution was discussed as a regular agenda item rather than in a public hearing. In advance of a public hearing, a legal notice is published in the newspaper to let people know a particular issue is to be discussed.
“This issue has not had adequate public conversation,” Rose said. “Here you are, going to the president of the United States with no public dialogue.”
Johnson responded by saying that county residents had received sufficient notice, as the topic had been advertised and discussed at a staff work session, and posted on the meeting’s agenda.
Rose also suggested amending the resolution so the request be directed to the state Legislature before being routed to Congress and the president. The county’s resolution was passed without this change.
Voting ultimately is the only thing tabulated,” Rose said. “(There are) all kinds of conversations about money ruining things from both sides, but ultimately it’s the ballot that counts.”