The Seattle City Council joined dozens of cities and even a few states by calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that opened the floodgates for corporate campaign spending and effectively created super pacs, political nonprofits that are not required to disclose contributors.
Washington Public Campaigns, a nonprofit working to eliminate financial influence on elections, urged the Seattle City Council to pass the resolution.
On May 13, it did, unanimously.
The resolution called for a constitutional amendment stating that corporations are not people and that political spending is not protected speech.
Like other statewide resolutions in New York City and Los Angeles, Seattle’s is not binding. It simply publishes an opinion by an elected body.
Some Seattle activists are looking for stronger action. A group called Envision Seattle is collecting signatures for an initiative that would ban corporations from lobbying or making political contributions in the city of Seattle.
Initiative 103 would bar corporate spending in Seattle and create a bill of rights for voters.
Seattle’s resolution addresses only Citizens United, said Jeff Reifman of Envision Seattle. This is just one small piece of campaign finance reform.
“Reversing the Citizens United decision only takes us back to 2010,” he said. “Corporate influence in government is a longstanding problem which requires deeper, structural solutions.”
If passed, Initiative 103 will surely face a challenge in court, supporters say.
Federal law already protects the right for corporations to spend money on campaigns as an act of speech. If passed, Initiative 103 would create a legal challenge to that federal law, Reifman said.
“By pushing these things up to voters, we push the conversation,” he said. “It’s no longer an obscure campaign finance issue. It’s a bunch of Americans saying we don’t want to run our country this way.”
That’s where the work of Envision Seattle and Washington Public Campaigns overlap. Both hope that the growing pool of Citizens United opponents will mount pressure on state and federal politicians.
Washington Public Campaigns is working on the King County Council to pass a resolution similar to Seattle’s.
A statewide resolution is next, said Executive Director Craig Salins. Hawaii, New Mexico and Vermont passed resolutions opposing corporate personhood from their state legislatures.
Salins expects the Washington State Legislature will consider a bill on corporate personhood by January.
1. Corporations are not human beings, and only human beings are endowed with constitutional rights.
2. Contributions and expenditures for political purposes are not constitutionally protected speech, and that, therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech.
3. Congress and the States shall have the power to regulate contributions and expenditures for campaigns and ballot measures and to require public disclosure of the sources of such contributions and expenditures.