City treads cautiously against 'Citizens United'

Palo Alto City Council declines to endorse a grassroots movement for a Constitutional Amendment; agrees to appeal to federal legislators

The recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to loosen up campaign-finance restrictions for corporations won't win any popularity contests in Palo Alto, but city officials aren't rushing to join a grassroots movement aiming to amend the U.S. Constitution to specify that "corporations aren't people" and that "money isn't speech."

Instead, the City Council on Monday voted 7-1, with Sid Espinosa dissenting and Greg Schmid absent, to submit a letter to elected leaders in Washington, D.C., urging them to adopt an appropriate amendment that would, in effect, overturn the controversial Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission ruling. The Supreme Court had concluded by a 5-4 vote that a corporation's right to spend on independent campaigns is protected by the First Amendment.

While the council agreed that the Supreme Court decision was misguided, members opposed a recommendation from the city's Human Relations Commission and dozens of residents in attendance to join the effort by the national group "Move to Amend" to add a 28th Amendment to the Constitution. Other California cities, including Mountain View, Los Altos Hills, Campbell and San Francisco, had passed resolutions in support of the proposed amendment.

The 2010 court decision has prompted widespread concern in Palo Alto and elsewhere about the undue and occasionally nefarious influence of money in politics. More than 200 city residents had signed a petition asking the council to pass a resolution in support of the amendment. About two dozen attended the Monday meeting, with many of them publicly calling on the council to support the grassroots drive.

Debbie Mytels, a Palo Alto resident who is part of the drive for an amendment, said the Citizens United decision has forced opponents of the ruling to push for a change in the Constitution because there are no other options. She urged the council to back the "Move to Amend" drive and, in doing so, signal to Washington lawmakers that it would back their efforts to combat the decision.

"This change will not happen at the national level unless we have strong local support," Mytels said.

The proposed amendment reads:

"Only human beings, not corporations, are endowed with rights that are protected by the Constitution."

"Money is not speech, and therefore the expenditure of money to influence the electoral process is not a form of constitutionally protected speech and may be regulated."

Claude Ezran, who chairs the Human Relations Commission, spoke passionately about the need to oppose Citizens United and argued that the decision will have a major negative impact on both the nation and, specifically, on Palo Alto. He cited the ongoing nationwide debates about climate change and Obamacare and argued that the Citizens United decision gives powerful special interests outsized influence, which could lead to devastating consequences.

Palo Alto, for example, is very much concerned about climate change, he said. But its efforts could be drowned out by corporations with unlimited spending powers, he argued.

"Nationwide, we're faced by powerful oil and coal interests who employ a huge megaphone that blasts messages stating that climate change is a hoax and that therefore inaction is the best course of action."

With Citizens United, Ezran said, "we are further eroding democracy and we're putting our nation on a path of gradual decline."

The council did not disagree. But members decided that there are better ways to signal their displeasure with Citizens United than supporting an amendment that some felt is too vague and others warned of unintended consequences. Councilman Larry Klein, an attorney, argued that a Constitutional amendment is an extremely rare occurrence and should be weighed with much more care. Like all of his colleagues, he argued that Citizens United is a misguided decision. But like the rest of the council, he stopped short of pushing for a resolution in support of a Constitutional amendment.

The proposed resolution included a list of clauses specifying, among other things, that "corporations are artificial entities separate from human beings" and that corporations "have unduly influenced and unfairly interfered with democratic processes by pressuring our legislators and dominating election campaigns with virtually unlimited contributions." Klein said that given attitude about the Constitution, he couldn't support the language proposed.

"I think the process is very flawed," Klein said. "I don't think it's appropriate for us to get into a debate about what any of these clauses mean. But I think there should be such a debate."

Klein proposed submitting a letter to legislators instead. His colleagues agreed.

Espinosa also criticized the recent court decision and stressed the need to have a "broader national conversation" about the issue. But he also said he opposes having the council officially endorse the "Move to Amend" drive.

"I'm ready to do what I can on a personal level ... but I will not be supporting the council moving forward on this (resolution)," Espinosa said.

Mayor Yiaway Yeh lauded Klein's proposal to appeal to the federal legislators, who he said "have a key role in moving forward with any Constitutional amendment."

"It's not how other cities approach it," Yeh said. "Palo Alto often doesn't approach issues and solutions the way other cities do. But I think it's reflective of the sentiment that does exist."

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Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 23, 2012 at 10:18 am

The letter found at the following link has been sent to the City Council, opposing its involvement in any attempts to amend the Constitution to deny “Corporate Personhood” and Corporate Free Speech—

Letter to Palo Alto City Council Opposing Council Resolution Seeking Constitutional Amendment Ending “Corporate Personhood” and Corporate Free Speech:
Web Link

Corporations were involved in the founding of our country (Jamestown, VA –Charter of the Virginia Company of London). Corporations are one of the important planks in our Western Civilization that allows individuals to acquire, and manage, assets peacefully. Other forms of government generally involve warfare, with the seizure and enslavement of the defeated, to acquire assets. There is little evidence of any understanding of how fundamental corporations are to our way of life—as evidenced by the unelected, and unaccountable, “Human Rights Commission”.

The idea that “democracy” allows people to band together as PACs to take aim at business interests, perhaps with the long term goal of creating a legal environment that either outlaws those businesses, or makes it so difficult for them to operate that they go out of business, or move to another country—and also disallow those business interests to defend themselves, or to sue in order to undue damages done by unfair/unconstitutional laws, is outrageous.

The Palo Alto City Council seems to be fully prepared to be the “water carriers” for every anti-business special interest that finds is way into our town. Another shameful example of the mindlessness that our Council has exhibited, including a Resolution endorsing Barak Obama for president and another endorsing HSR!

It’s hard to find any Resolutions passed by the Council that are not ultimately seen to have been on the wrong side of history. It’s hard to find any reason to vote for anyone on this Council that is running for re-election, or will be running in a future election.

And this episode is another reason to terminate the so-called “Human Rights Commission” that clearly has no qualifications to endorse Constitutional changes without an endorsement of the town as a whole—which has not happened.

Given the Council’s decision to voice its anti-corporate attitudes, one can only wonder if those Council Members voting for this Resolution will take any more money from businesses (which are no different than corporations)? Will be interesting to review their FPPC filings to see if they have taken business money, or just money from “real people”? It will also be interesting to hear the Council explain how Labor Unions are different—and they should be allowed “Free Speech”—but not Corporations.

Another example of just how out-of-touch the Palo Alto City Council/Government has become.

Like this comment
Posted by Phil Lally
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 23, 2012 at 10:51 am

An important difference between corporations and Human beings is that Corporations are not subject to sickness and death. Of course some of them die every year, usually because of bad management decisions.

Like this comment
Posted by Melissa
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 23, 2012 at 10:55 am

No argument that our City Council is out of touch with typical Palo Altans, but who do you suggest we vote for? Two incumbents (Burt and Schmid) are running along with another former council member (Kniss). Then there are three newcomers, Gray, Weiss and Bormann. I never heard of Bormann before this election. Who do you pick?

Like this comment
Posted by J99
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 23, 2012 at 11:03 am

So it is ok to allow unions to automatically deduct money from workers and vote to support every left wing politician and left wing cause without worker input but the left wing is furious that the Supreme Court has allowed business groups to do the same thing?? And now propose a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court. This is the typical ultra arrogance of the left wing and all the socialists that they represent.
And of course the Palo Alto city council has always been left wing so they join right in. What complete stupidity.

Like this comment
Posted by J99
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 23, 2012 at 11:06 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by T. Skoog
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 23, 2012 at 11:13 am

Proposition 32 in part addresses the problem of organizations (Corporations and Unions)of taking payroll deductions which are used to promote political causes which individual employees may not be in agreement with. Time to vote here - and to pick employees of Palo Alto and elected officials which promote better business for the city as a whole.

Like this comment
Posted by Big Mama
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 23, 2012 at 11:26 am

I couldn't have said it any better. Thank you J99. Wake up council. Passionately FOCUS on what is important HERE IN PA and quick wasting time and passionately meddling in *#@!.

Like this comment
Posted by best govt money can buy, top bidder edition
a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 23, 2012 at 11:29 am

CU allows both unions AND corporations (including multinationals having foreign involvement) to donate.

But if you look, it's the billionaires that make all the noise, except we can't see how much they're putting into the 'c4' anonymous superpacs.

from Web Link

Here are the top five Obama donors: Jeffrey Katzenberg, $2.566 million; Irwin Jacobs, $2.122 million; (tie): Fred Eychaner, $2.066 million (tie): Jon Stryker, $2.066 million; Steve Mostyn, $2.003 million

Here are the top five Romney donors: Sheldon Adelson, owner of the Las Vegas Sands casino empire $34.2 million

Adelson’s casino company has advised shareholders that it was under investigation by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission. Investigators were said to be focusing on the Macau casinos and reports of missing money and possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

No. 2: Bob J. Perry, $17.3 million

Perry was a top “bundler” for former President George W. Bush’s campaign and gave big to the Swift Vets and POWs for Truth campaign in 2004, donating $4.4 million to the effort to discredit Kerry.

No. 3: Harold Simmons, $16.5 million; Simmons has been active in political fundraising since the 1990s and in 2004 was a $4 million backer of the Swift Vets campaign, the Republican-backed effort to discredit Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry’s military record in the Vietnam War. Simmons’ Titanium Metals Corp. reportedly is a top producer of titanium for weapons and other industrial uses. He also owns a majority stake in Valhi Inc., a Texas-based waste management company, and could benefit from a proposed Nuclear Regulatory Commission rule change that would allow the company’s Texas facility to store spent uranium from nuclear power and weapons plants. Contran’s subsidiaries have spent $200,000 this year lobbying the NRC, Energy Department, the Senate and House on metals and waste issues, and $4.3 over the past decade.

No. 4: Robert Rowling, $4.1 million

No. 5: William Koch, $4 million

Koch is the brother of Charles and David, who have bragged that they donated $400 million to GOP causes this election cycle (through non-transparent sources, so not listed)
METHODOLOGY: These rankings by The Associated Press...


Obama top five: 11 million

Romney top five: 75 million (again, not counting the other Koch brothers and their $400 million)

Should local municipalities speak up, or shut up like good little children and and allow our government be bought by the highest bidders, while we deflect from the argument with union bashing and immigration issues (ideas that started with Bush and McCain)?

Like this comment
Posted by JerryL
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 23, 2012 at 12:04 pm

If corporations are to be considered persons in the eyes of the law then they should be subject to the death penalty.

This should be imposed when a corporation's behavior is found to be so severely detrimental to the interests of other persons, their state or county or even humanity at large that corporate death is the only suitable remedy.

Death would be imposed on a corporation by seizing its assets. I'm thinking Enron here. If a corporation's stockholders knew that this might be their fate, perhaps they would pay more attention to the actions of the leaders of the corporations that they choose to own pieces of.

Like this comment
Posted by Fine Line
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 23, 2012 at 12:28 pm

yes corporations (Spice Trade) helped build this country, however, the fine line has been crossed such that they now own the country. They need to figure this out before China says, "Pay up. You owe us."

Like this comment
Posted by Uh-huh
a resident of another community
on Oct 23, 2012 at 12:32 pm

"Palo Alto often doesn't approach issues and solutions the way other cities do."

MORE TRUTHFUL works could not have been spoken. Palo Alto throws out ideas - Were going to do this! We're going to be the first to..... It's all smoke and words. Other cities actually budget and do what they say.

Palo Alto is a BIG JOKE!!! Citizens really need to be focused with the council change coming up. That's when the inside management people get nervous that their old tricks will be discovered. Aaawww, what a shame that would be, huh? NOT!

Like this comment
Posted by vote 'em out
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 23, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Great. Issue closed. Now please move on to Palo Alto city issues which you have the responsibility to address. Concerned about the influence of money in politics? How about standing up to the developers?

Like this comment
Posted by Jan H.
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 23, 2012 at 1:53 pm

Jan H. is a registered user.

Thank you, VEO!

Like this comment
Posted by yes vote 'em out
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 23, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Vote y on 32 also. Automatic dues deduction from "public" unions is ok and Citizens United is not! Obama has single-handedly raised the money stakes in presidential races.

Like this comment
Posted by TimH
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 23, 2012 at 2:33 pm

As seen in the NY Times: "The "Super PAC" should be illegal. It's already immoral, cheap politicking practice that has nothing to do with democratic values and practices. They have no true contribution to resolving issues faced in local or national affairs, but only exist for the super-wealthy to have a more direct method to manipulate government proceedings."


Like this comment
Posted by best govt money can buy, top bidder edition
a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 23, 2012 at 4:20 pm

" Obama has single-handedly raised the money stakes in presidential races."


Falsehood. Can't even read the previous post, see above for the details and links...

The net:

* Obama top five donors: $11 million

* Romney top five donors: $75 million (again, not counting the other Koch brothers and their $400 million)

Like this comment
Posted by Brian Good
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 24, 2012 at 12:47 am

Obama's top donor in 2008 was Goldman Sachs. They and their employees gave him almost a million dollars.

Like this comment
Posted by Yes on 32
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 24, 2012 at 1:32 am

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!

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Oct 24, 2012 at 8:47 am

I do not understand why supporters of Citizens United aren't horrified by the effects of it. Do you not see that allowing such money into politics has corrupted our system? The people and organizations with high wealth can now "buy" the election, putting in the president who favors their positions (no tax cuts for the wealthy, for example).
I'm not anti-business at all. I'm against giving this kind of power to ANY one sector of our society.

Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 24, 2012 at 9:32 am

> I'm not anti-business at all. I'm against giving this
> kind of power to ANY one sector of our society.

So .. what evidence can you provide that corporate money actually “buys” elections? Take the current election—can you provide links to corporate-sponsored advertising that you can prove will “buy” this election?

Are you suggesting, for instance, that General Motors has paid for advertising that forces people (since they have “the power”) to vote for their candidate—in this case President Obama?

Back in the 1960 election, there was a claim that the “Chicago Machine” ended up stealing Cooke County for Kennedy. Nixon didn’t contest the Cooke County vote, so Kennedy won. The “Chicago Machine” can hardly be considered as “corporate money”, can it?

And then in the 1996 election, the Chinese Army (PLA) contributed about $250K (or more) to the Clinton Reelection campaign—and Clinton won. Would you say that the Chinese Army is “corporate money”?

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by best govt money can buy, top bidder edition
a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 24, 2012 at 9:45 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by wmartin46
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 24, 2012 at 10:53 am

wmartin46 is a registered user.

The link points to a recent recap of US Presidential campaign spending. The contributions from corporations will no doubt be made public at some point.

Web Link

Unless the corporate contributions are above 50%, then it’s difficult to understand people claiming that they “have bought this election”.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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