Council supports Citzens United effort
The Scarborough Town Council passed a resolution last week to keep big money out of local politics.
On Wednesday, Nov. 7, the day after the general election that elected local, state and federal representatives, the council overwhelmingly supported a resolution to amend the United States Constitution to state that corporations are not human beings and should not have the freedom of expression like human beings do, especially in terms of political spending.
In January 2010, in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Corporation, the United States Supreme Court ruled that corporations and labor unions, like individuals, have a First Amendment right to participate in political free speech.
Since then, citizens all across America, including here in Maine, have banded together to reverse the decision through a Constitutional amendment, citing concern with the amount of money corporations can put into political elections.
The resolution passed by the Town Councilors argued that corporations should not have the same rights as individuals because “corporations are not and have never been human beings, and therefore are rightly subservient to human beings and governments as our legal creations.”
It further states that “the recent Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision that rolled back the legal limits on corporate spending in the electoral process creates an unequal playing field and allows unlimited corporate spending to influence elections, candidate selection, policy decisions and sway votes.”
Town Council chairman Ron Ahlquist said he decided to put the topic on the agenda after meeting with a group of local residents who were concerned with big money affecting local elections.
“They were very concerned about that,” Ahlquist said this week. “I think that was proven in this last election.”
The Center for Responsive Politics estimates upward of $6 billion was spent nationwide this election season, including $970 million from outside organizations.
The influx of money into elections could be seen in the District 6 state senate race in which Democrat James Boyle beat Republican Ruth Summers 11,831-9,496. It was the second most expensive state senate race this year.
According to the Maine Ethics Commission, more than $288,650 was spent in the race, including $60,185 in support of Boyle and $132,079 in opposition. The ethics commission reports that Boyle, a Gorham resident, spent nearly $53,250 on his campaign. In total, $17,486 was spent by outside groups in support of Summers and $78,900 in opposition to her. Summers, a Scarborough resident, spent $22,840 on her campaign.
Scarborough joins a long list of towns and cities in Maine that have voiced opposition to the decision made by the Supreme Court.
Monroe, a small town of less than 1,000 north of Belfast in Waldo County, was the first community in the state to address the issue. In June 2010 the town passed a resolution denouncing the Supreme Court’s decision.
This past January, the Portland City Council was the first local government group to support a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision.
Since then the officials in Waterville, Great Pond, Freedom, Bangor, Fairfield, Winslow, Bar Harbor, Leeds, Mount Desert, Arrowsic, Newcastle, Southwest Harbor, Shapleigh, Bethel, Liberty and Vasselboro have shown distain for the decision.
“Citizens groups around the country are promoting this idea. They are the ones that are going to carry this forward,” said Sam Kelley, the owner of MBI Trailers, who helped to start the push in Scarborough.
“It is from the bottom up,” Ahlquist said. “It’s amazing how much activity this has received.”
In Scarborough the resolution was supported by the Town Council 5-0. Richard Sullivan, was absent from the meeting.
“They all spoke very strongly in favor,” Kelley said. “Nobody spoke against it in any way, shape or form.”
“It’s a way for us, as a town, to show our unhappiness with how things are,” Ahlquist said. “We don’t usually do these national type resolutions, but I think it was very timely coming on the heels of the Presidential election.”
Now that the resolution has been adopted by Scarborough, it will be sent to President Barack Obama, Congressional representatives and the leadership in the state legislature.
“It will be added to the others from the many towns and cities across the state that have voted on this,” Kelley said. “It has legs, but it will take a while. There is no doubt about that.”
According to Office of the Federal Register, a Constitutional amendment must be proposed by two-thirds of the House of Representatives and Senate, or by a constitutional convention called by two-thirds of the state legislatures.
None of the 27 Constitutional amendments, however, have been proposed by a constitutional convention. For the amendment to pass, it needs to be ratified by three-fourths, or 38 of the states.