Council takes stand on Citizens United through adoption of resolution
The Claremont City Council Tuesday adopted a resolution by a 3-1 vote, with one abstention, calling for legislators to amend the Constitution in an attempt to limit corporate influence in politics.
Legal limits on corporate spending in politics was expanded as a result of Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Committee, where the Supreme Court ruled that corporations, like individuals, have a right to protection under the First Amendment’s free speech clause. The Supreme Court ruled that financial donations should be protected under free speech and limiting donation amounts by corporations would violate the Constitution.
The city’s resolution proclaims that only people are citizens and that money is not free speech. As such, the city council is urging the legislature to grant the right of the people to regulate campaign spending—directly or indirectly—and to include spending as a part of the public record.
Supporting council members Sam Pedroza, Joseph Lyons and Larry Schroeder, called for the resolution charging that Citizens United has a direct effect on the political process in Claremont elections. In his closing statement at the meeting, Mayor Larry Schroeder referred to Claremont’s ordinance limiting individual campaign contributions to $250.
Though the Citizens United decision will not affect local rule on direct donations, some council members believe that protecting corporate donations as free speech may have an ancillary, negative impact on campaigning in Claremont.
“I think it’s imperative that we pass this resolution so it doesn’t interfere with our intent and our politics here in Claremont,” Mr. Schroeder said. “Large corporate or union or other entity funding has no place in a community like ours. Although it does cost to run a local campaign, it’s at the heart of campaigns in Claremont that citizens should have the right to choose based on a candidate’s qualifications rather than some entity attempting to influence voters by outrageously spending on one candidate over another.”
Not all were in agreement. Mayor Pro Tem Opanyi Nasiali cast the sole dissenting vote with Councilmember Corey Calaycay choosing to abstain. Mr. Nasiali was supportive of the proponents to lobby state representatives, but did not want the council to take an official stance. To Mr. Nasiali, the issue would be better handled at the federal and state level.
“Today Citizens United, and tomorrow it may be the repeal of Obamacare,” said Mr. Nasiali. “I’m afraid that if this council goes down the road of reacting to such controversial cases every time, even if they will affect our residents…we could be bogged down.”
In June 2011, the council unanimously added a clause to its list of best practices stating that the council would refrain from taking a stance on policy matters that were unrelated to local jurisdiction. Mr. Calaycay, like Mr. Nasiali, said he was uncomfortable taking a position on a case like Citizens United, which he felt, goes against the council’s agreed-upon best practices.
“My vote would put 36,000 people on the record as being for or against the issue,” Mr. Calaycay explained of his decision. “There are certain controversial issues we have to deal with in town, but I prefer to not get involved in more than we have to.”
According to Councilmember Joe Lyons, Citizens United falls well within the purview of local government and its responsibility to safeguard its citizens. The council will take its adopted resolution a step further by amending the resolution to notify state legislators and other local municipalities of its decision in an effort to prompt further action.
“We have allowed…the influence of money and politics to simply direct the game. To me, this is the greatest threat to democracy in America,” Mr. Lyons said. “When we are failed at other levels of government that are supposed to do their service to people within our community, it is our responsibility to publicly call to account those failures.”