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Town Square

Palo Alto considers Citizens United

Original post made on Oct 19, 2012

Corporations are not people. Money is not speech. These maxims have become a rallying cry for opponents of the recent decision in the case of Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled by a 5-4 vote that political spending is a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, October 19, 2012, 8:20 AM

Comments

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Posted by Vote 'em out
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 19, 2012 at 9:47 am

The city council finds time to discuss everything but Palo Alto's problems. Fine for them but not on the city's dime. It's ironic that they are so concerned about corporate influence when the council is in the back pocket of the developers, blasting through height limits, approving overbuilt projects 8-0, and trying to distract us with this phony issue. How about fixing our potholed streets? Undergrounding our power lines? Do something useful.


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Posted by Tracey Chen
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 19, 2012 at 10:48 am

Well I agree with vote them all out's name. (there might be one in there worth saving), but seriously, the rest are prohibitionist poop-for-brains. AND I agree that they should better prioritize their time. I was disgusted when they wasted money installing hideous new name signs for every park when the old ones were still perfectly fine AND much better looking. I'm disgusted by their lack of foresight (or caring about the people actually impacted by the traffic changes..the ones who now have to wait through about 4 or 5 light cycles to get out of the circles (even without the gas line thing)...I mean, seriously, trips to my doctor that used to take 20 minutes tops, I need at least 45 for now..and that makes me much sicker because of my health issues. However, every city in this nation should be taking on these WORLDWIDE PROBLEMS....start local....go, palo alto city council, go! It's about time you try to clean up you snotty ways......Who allowed the palo alto PD to go to Oakland last year and hurt Scott Olson?


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Posted by member
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 19, 2012 at 10:51 am

I totally agree with "vote 'em out"...couldn't have said it better. It's time city council concerns itself with JUST the basics of city needs FIRST. Come on you guys - do some real work for a change.


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Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 19, 2012 at 1:45 pm

It's sooooo much more satisfying to work on world peace, global hunger and the constitution than fixing asphalt and addressing the wildly inflated cost of water. Yuck!


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Posted by A human citizen
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 19, 2012 at 2:04 pm

To get back to this topic. I do support the local goverments in their attempt to right this ridiculous new twist to American political life. Corporations are not people, money is not free speech.

Our problems with the rich (such as the developers you criticize) overwhelming influencing politics will only worsen if this issue isn't addressed. Yes, city council, please do support Move to Amend. Do it promptly, quickly, efficiently. Then get back to the business of serving your OWN CITIZENS who need you UNITED in protecting them from the loud, money-loving interests of wealthy corporations locally.

Thank you.


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Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 19, 2012 at 2:46 pm

@ A human citizen:

I think that the same thing can be said about Big Unions too -- especially PUBLIC SECTOR unions. They donate quite a bit of money to candidates, parties or causes that they assume to be beneficial to their goals. Corporations and unions may not be "people" -- but both are supposedly working for what they assume to be the best interest of the people in those groups.


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Posted by geri
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 19, 2012 at 2:49 pm

Wonder if the reporter knows that the decision stems from the government's attempt to stop a movie from being shown in theaters.

If you want to strike down Citizens United, then you support the idea of police silencing people who wish to exercise their right to free speech.

I'm betting that the council is on the side of limiting free speech and will support this constitutional amendment.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 19, 2012 at 3:39 pm

> I do support the local goverments in their attempt to
> right this ridiculous new twist to American political
> life. Corporations are not people, money is not free speech.

I wonder if this poster knows that the Supreme Court of the United States thinks differently, and has thought differently almost since the beginning of the Republic?

Web Link

Corporate personhood is the legal concept that a corporation may sue and be sued in court in the same way as natural persons or unincorporated associations of persons. This doctrine in turn forms the basis for legal recognition that corporations, as groups of people, may hold and exercise certain rights under the common law and the U.S. Constitution. The doctrine does not hold that corporations are "people" in the most common usage of the word, nor does it grant to corporations all of the rights of citizens.

Since at least Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward – 17 U.S. 518 (1819), the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized corporations as having the same rights as natural persons to contract and to enforce contracts. In Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad - 118 U.S. 394 (1886), the reporter noted in the headnote to the opinion that the Chief Justice began oral argument by stating, "The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does."[1] While the headnote is not part of the Court's opinion and thus not precedent, two years later, in Pembina Consolidated Silver Mining Co. v. Pennsylvania - 125 U.S. 181 (1888), the Court clearly affirmed the doctrine, holding, "Under the designation of 'person' there is no doubt that a private corporation is included [in the Fourteenth Amendment]. Such corporations are merely associations of individuals united for a special purpose and permitted to do business under a particular name and have a succession of members without dissolution." [2] This doctrine has been reaffirmed by the Court many times since.
----

Wonder if this poster knows that "local government" is a "municipal corporation"? So--why should "municipal corporations" be able to deny private corporations access to free speech, and equal representation before the law? Why should "municipal corporations" be free to claim that the supreme Court doesn't know what it's talking about, and to be able to do so without any legal, or political, consequences.

It's pretty clear that the so-called Human Rights Commission is way over its head again. Another reason this (generally) left-wing committee should be terminated, and the City get back to the basics of managing the assests paid for by the taxpayers, and monitoring the various departments, to insure that they are doing the job they are being paid to do.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 19, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Here is another example of "government" banning "free speech" in the State of Minnesota--

Free online classes banned in Minnesota without explicit government approval:
Web Link

"Roedler said that even organizations which offer no credit for completing their classes are unwelcome in the state, unless approved by government officials."

It would be really interesting to find the legislative history of this ban. It would be interesting to find out if this ban was pushed by anti-corporate types, or "education sector" types that did not relish any kinds of competition in the routinely competition-free education industry.

For a country that claims to believe in "free speech" and "limited government"--it's clear that many people do not. One can only wonder what the US would be like if every company/corporation that wanted to print books, or newspapers, or create courseware, had to gain government approval? Hopefully, Minnesota will mend its ways--but with the so-called Human Rights Commission opposing free speech for corporations, it's not likely Minnesota might just double down on its clearly UnAmerican prohibition of providing government-free education.

(Note--Minnesota is a very "left wing" state. It's drift to the "left" started in the 1880s, when it lost a competiton with Chicago to be the railhead for the trans-shipment of cattle from the West to the East. Once the railroad dollars dried up, Minnesota began to see businesses that were associated with the railroad/cattle move to Chicago, and a deep depression overcame the economy (mostly in Minneapolis/St. Paul). British Banks move in and bought up a lot of local real estate, creating tension between the locals and the "outsiders". Over time, the economy recovered, but Minnesotans became so "anti-bank" that they outlawed banks from outside the state operating branches within the state. As late as the 1970s, there were not a lot of credit cards issued in Minnesota, since the smaller Minnesota-based banks could not afford to run these sorts of programs. If people did have a credit card, they had to apply for them from out-of-state banks. Minnesota has become home to a number of important companies, but the grass roots mistrust of corporations still runs deep in the country side.)


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Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 19, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Citizens United is the final chapter in the takeover of the US government by corporations. The USA has become a kleptocracy and an oligarchy, and Citizens United has etched it in stone and made the final destruction of our democracy an almost irreversible fact of life. Fighting Citizens United is the most patriotic act a US citizen can be involved in and the actions of the city of Palo Alto are as noble as those of the original patriots who overthrew the British rule.


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Posted by Education
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 19, 2012 at 5:10 pm

@Wayne Martin: The Minnesota law, which has been on the books for twenty years or so, was designed to protect Minnesota students from wasting their money on degrees from substandard institutions. An educational institution has to register and pay a fee. This law was written before the advent of the widespread internet and free courses from reputable institutions. The state has reconsidered, and will allow free classes. The education department will work with the legislature to modify the law.

So there was no leftist conspiracy, Wayne, sorry to say. Nor were anti-corporate types involved. Maybe you should research things before you shoot your mouth off.


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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 19, 2012 at 6:25 pm

> The Minnesota law, which has been on the books for twenty
> years or so, was designed to protect Minnesota students from
> wasting their money on degrees from substandard institutions

Really? So, how did the State decide what a "substandard institution" was? Was there a well-published set of criteria, or just a "thumbs up/down" by a State employee? What rights of appeal did an applicant have? How many applicants were actually disapproved over the years?

Do you know?

As I stated in the earlier posting, without a legislative history for this law—we'll never know who decided that there was a "plague" of "substandard institutions" flooding the land with "substandard courseware".

From thinking about this a little longer, I realized I had forgotten that Minneapolis-based Control Data Corporation (CDC) created a fairly impressive (for the time) distance learning system, in collaboration with Purdue University--

PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations):
Web Link)

It's not at all hard to believe that CDC (and Purdue) didn't have something to do with this law—since their nascent technology was more likely to prosper without too much competition. But without the legislative history, we're not likely to know who wanted this law.

And thinking about role of government to protect residents from companies it considers as "substandard", the State of Minnesota doesn't seem to be too concerned about the low graduation rate of some of its largest cities' schools--

Web Link

For 2005, the America's Promise "Cities in Crisis" report calculated Minneapolis' four-year graduation rate at 45.3 percent, as compared to the 50-city average of 52.8.[13] MPS disputes the findings, claiming that the study was inaccurate in the method it used to calculate graduation rates.[14] The Minneapolis school system calculated its own graduation rate for that same time period as being at 52.8 percent. [15]

Even though the high school graduation rates are difficult to calculate, as late as 2005, Minneapolis claims its graduation rate was 52.8%. It's just a little difficult to believe that there are so many on-line, out-of-state courseware products that the State has to worry itself about these, while allowing its own schools to function so poorly.

If, as the poster claims, this law is being modified, that's great. However, the basic question still stands—what makes the State an expert in education, whether on-line, or in the classroom?

> Maybe you should research things before you shoot your mouth off.

And maybe you should actually provide some hard evidence to back up your claims.


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Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 19, 2012 at 6:58 pm

This is an important issue and it is entirely appropriate for Palo Alto City Council to issue a resolution in support of Citizens United repeal.

To my mind the idea that big money special interests can and probably do undermine democracy by flooding campaign coffers with money is the same issue as my contention that rich special interests like real estate developers contribute too much money to local elections, and have too much sway over Council, commissioners and staff.

I wrote about this in May and also texted our Mayor (YY) on this topic in March.

Web Link


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Posted by Jan H.
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 19, 2012 at 11:33 pm

Vote 'Em Out pretty much said it all in a nutshell: the incumbent City Council doesn't really have a clue about the real Palo Altans or their concerns and needs.

Let's hope their successors learn from their egregious mistakes!


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Posted by maguro_01
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 20, 2012 at 6:35 am

The base of the difficulty is that there is no Jefferson's Wall between politics and money, a Founding Flaw. It seems surprising but it isn't. It was necessary to include the slave territories in the Revolution for it to be successful. That plutocratic society required corruption to maintain itself. It was, and to some extent remains, a different and alien culture area. The bipartisan Pay-To-Play political financing system in Washington and the state capitols is the result. It became quickly entrenched and was not reformed even after the Civil War.

The chances of passing an Amendment to fix it are not very good, given the interests involved. Now it has simply overrun Congress. Our economy is becoming more and more dysfunctional again as interests have bought discarding of hard won Depression era reforms. It took hundreds of millions to get rid of Glass-Steagal as an obvious example. Now multi-thousand page bills written by lobbyists are what Congress does. Glass-Steagal was, I read, 37 pages. Now Finance and medical care overall eat close to 1/4 US GDP, two areas whose take is determined through the crony capitalism of Pay-To-Play politics. The US has an impressive 20% of world GDP, but spends around 50% world military expenses, also unsustainable. When we spend more money there, we are not more secure but less.

-------------------------------
Question - the Corporate Person isn't mentioned in the Constitution. It became part of the law in the century after. While it is surely a useful invention, why can't Congress just make a law defining what the properties of the Corporate Person are?

IMO, even with distortions like the SuperPAC American Crossroads fund, or the anonymous Crossroads GPS fund as examples, we haven't begun to see the mischief that can come from crony capitalism and plutocracy. It has been an historic path to failure for country after country. Do we have to actually fail and have reforms forced by the IMF or similar? Such failures take at least a generation of real, general poverty to pay off.


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Posted by Tammy Skoog
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Oct 20, 2012 at 9:43 am

Who thinks this type of stuff up? Mountain View has a huge tax base with its Google, LinkedIn, etc. Menlo Park is rejuventaing with Facebook. Redwood City has Oracle and is rejuvenating. The city of San Francisco is reducing the tax base for corporations to move there and rejuvenate the city. Corporations build products and provide the income for families - they also give back to the community by creating the base for small businesses to flourish.
Look around Plo Alto - the corporations are leaving because the city is hostile to big business. Take the point of view and remove the word Corporation and put in it's place UNION - now you got it right. The UNIONS take money from members and direct it to their party of choice - there is your problem.


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Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 20, 2012 at 4:36 pm

Tammy Skoog:you have got to be kidding. In which parallel universe do you live? The one created by Faux Noise?


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Posted by America Let's Take Her Back
a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2012 at 11:07 pm

Read more about Citizens United and join our group as we strive to become the largest voting bloc in America. Web Link


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Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2012 at 12:19 am

@ Tammy Skoog:

You're correct about the unions. I suspect that they are aware that the public would be unhappy knowing just how much money they pump into the coffers of particular politicians by the fact that they are trying to reinterpret what Prop 32 is all about.

Those who oppose Prop 32 -- right or wrong -- are quick to point out "Big Oil" and "Karl Rove" as being "behind it" but neglect to say that the anti-Prop 32 campaign is largely funded by the leaders of public unions who want to continue funding certain politicians.

Unions aren't simply unhappy when it comes to corporations donating money. They are unhappy that it would limit the leaders of public unions from sending money that they have collected to their supportive politicians.

While you won't find this on Fox News (or "Faux News" as childish individuals call it), you won't find it on MSNBC or other Big Media sources either.


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Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 21, 2012 at 6:38 am

Those big bad unions and those wonderful cuddly sweet corporations, soon as a TV family drama on Faux News..


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Posted by Re: prop 32
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2012 at 7:58 am

What's so bad about allowing union members to decide if they want to contribute/support the same candidates as their union managemnt? Allowing unions to skim employee paychecks and spend the money on political candidates of their choosing is just wrong. Let the employees decide if they want to contribute their union dues - or not, based on their own political preferences.


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Posted by Perspective
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Oct 21, 2012 at 8:25 am

Fine, if a corporation isn't a person, then a corporation can't be sued for breaking any laws, none of the people who own or work for the corporation can go to jail for wrongdoing, and the corporation doesn't pay taxes. After all, if it isn't a person, then it must be an object, and objects can not think, and can not be held accountable for anything, and can not earn money to be taxed.

Can't have it both ways, folks.


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Posted by Perspective
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Oct 21, 2012 at 8:28 am

Danny: Tammy is living in the real world where results are what count. And you?


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Posted by anonymous donations to the c4 superpacs
a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2012 at 9:59 am

CU doesn't make a difference anymore. At the national level, the breakdown of campaign finance laws makes it so only billionaires and anonymous donations to the c4 superpacs count.

Top five donors for each candidate:

Obama: 10 million, Romney: 70+ million

----------------------------------

Here are the top five Obama donors:

No. 1: Jeffrey Katzenberg, Total: US$2.566 million No. 2: Irwin Jacobs, Total: US$2.122 million No. 3 (tie): Fred Eychaner, Total: US$2.066 million No. 3 (tie): Jon Stryker, 54, Total: US$2.066 million No. 5: Steve Mostyn, 41,Total: US$2.003 million

Here are the top five Romney donors:

No. 1: Sheldon Adelson, 79, owner of the Las Vegas Sands casino empire.

Total: US$34.2 million

No. 2: Bob J. Perry, 80, head of a Houston real estate empire worth an estimated US$650 million.

Total: US$17.3 million

No. 3: Harold Simmons, 81, owner of Contran Corp., a Dallas-based conglomerate worth an estimated US$9 billion that specializes in metals and chemical production and waste management.

Total: US$16.5 million

No. 4: Robert Rowling, 58, head of Dallas-based TRT Holdings.

Total: US$4.1 million

No. 5: William Koch, 72, an industrialist whose South Florida-based energy and mining conglomerate is worth an estimated US$4 billion.

Total: US$4 million


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Posted by Constrained
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2012 at 11:11 am

So if you think unions should get permission from each member to take a political stance, how about corporations getting permission from each shareholder? Seems fair to me. After all corporations supposedly belong to the shareholders.


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Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 21, 2012 at 12:48 pm

I own shares in a number of corporations which have contributed heavily to Romney supporting PACs, and although I am a a part owner of those corporations, I don't recall ever being asked whether I agreed with their financial support of Romney's campaign, nor am I aware of those contributions ever being put to a share holders vote.


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Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2012 at 9:50 pm

@ daniel:

Remember: It is the LEADERS of those unions and corporations that you are complaining about.

I have been a teacher and the union that I belonged to contributed almost all of their political donations -- taken from our paychecks -- to candidates that I would never feel comfortable supporting.

By the way, corporations and industries that Liberals like to address with the moniker "Big" (e.g. "Big Oil," "Big Insurance," "Big Banks," etc...) do not exclusively donate to the Republicans or their candidates.

You can look up the contributions from Chevron and see the number of Democrats to whose campaigns they donated. Last year, Chevron donated to the campaigns of at least 109 Democrats.

Web Link

And, of course, the "Big" moniker is rarely used for unions or industries who give big $$$ to the Democrats. Big Hollywood, Big Trial Lawyers, Big Unions, etc... -- they give almost exclusively to the candidates who they feel work on behalf of their goals. This, when added to the corporations who divide their contributions, makes for a rather sizable heartbeat for their causes.

IF you are going to complain about corporations giving contributions, then you should complain about those that donate to the party that you hold near and dear as well. If you are going to complain about what you call "Faux News," then you need to complain about MSNBC/NBC/Universal/Comcast too. If you are going to complain about business gifts to politicians, then you should do the same in regard to the money that union leaders take from workers and distribute to those politicians that THEY see fit.

Make sense?


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Posted by Perspective
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Oct 22, 2012 at 5:36 am

Nayeli: I agree. Either NO 'big' anything can donate, or all can. Either we have ONLY individuals contributing, or we have any entity contributing.


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Posted by maguro_01
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 22, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Unions are corporations of some sort and would be affected as would other corporations if a Jefferson's Wall between politicians and money were added to the Constitution. Going back and forth about that is not relevant. The US Pay-To-Play political financing system would be called corruption in any other place or context and it's a Founding Flaw. It's history must tell us why we have it - I ventured one idea.

Now US multinationals contribute in their global interests, not American ones. So Pay-To-Play is a road for foreign influence into the heart of US government. Did you ever wonder sometimes just whose government we have in Washington?

"Fine, if a corporation isn't a person, then a corporation can't be sued for breaking any laws, none of the people who own or work for the corporation can go to jail for wrongdoing, and the corporation doesn't pay taxes. After all, if it isn't a person, then it must be an object, and objects can not think, and can not be held accountable for anything, and can not earn money to be taxed."

The "Corporate Person" is a very convenient agreed on legal fiction. Perhaps you think it should vote too? How about paternity suits? Ideas on limited liability and stocks also evolved to foster enterprise and economic activity. The idea of stocks too needs scrutiny given that today most are traded by computers. Do Intel, AMD, Microsoft, and Linus Torvalds get to chose Boards of Directors across the economy? Or maybe the app programmers? Maybe I missed the news....

"Can't have it both ways, folks."

Of course we can. We live in California.... Anyway, since the Corporate Person is not mentioned in the Constitution it's a matter of some legislation and a lot of case law, as I understand it. So it sounds like a well-crafted bill in Congress could define it at least in interstate commerce. But doing that is a second path.

A better one would be an Amendment to erect that Jefferson's Wall between politician's daily work and money. I read that Senators spend half their working day raising money, House members must spend more. And they are not passive participants - US corporate tax rates are so high probably so Congress can auction off the loopholes. The path to crony capitalism and plutocracy we are on is historically a well-trod path to outright failure.


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Posted by Yes on 32
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Oct 24, 2012 at 12:35 am

"Posted by Nayeli,

@ daniel:Remember: It is the LEADERS of those unions and corporations that you are complaining about.

I have been a teacher and the union that I belonged to contributed almost all of their political donations -- taken from our paychecks -- to candidates that I would never feel comfortable supporting."

Another argument for YES on Prop 32. A friend on mine, an incumbent running for a second term on the School Board, told me she has been receiving unsolicited campaign contributions from unions she has had NO contact with. She received the endorsement from one building trade union and the unsolicited checks/contributions have been rolling in. She told me she doesn't understand why this is happening. I told her it's because of the 120 million dollar school bond funds that have yet to be spent and these groups want access to the money.

My point is that these unions have more than enough funds if they are sending unsiolicited checks to candidates they've never met.

Yes on Prop 32!


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Posted by anonymous donations to the c4 superpacs
a resident of another community
on Oct 24, 2012 at 10:05 am

"A friend on mine,"

Anonymous anecdotal fables.

Show us the filings documenting those donations if they are true.

"A friend on mine" told me that is a false story.

No on 32. Rewrite it to truly take money out of elections and do it right.