WE DID IT! And what we still need to do...

Michael Kagan
After months of meetings and emails with members of the Tacoma City Council, after many strategy sessions among representatives of various grassroots organizations, after testifying at the Council’s Citizens’ Forums, after carefully crafting the language of the resolution, the people have succeeded! Five of the nine council members passed a resolution calling for an amendment to the US Constitution to right the wrongs of the disastrous 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.Now the resolution goes to the Washington State Legislature, with the hope that they will act (by passing a ‘memorial’, the Legislature's version of a resolution) to call on Congress to pass an amendment that says corporations are not people and money is not speech. Who voted against this Resolution? What needs to be done next?

Several different organizations worked hard to make this happen. Representatives from Washington Public Campaigns, Move to Amend, MoveOn, Occupy Tacoma, WashPIRG, and Fuse did extensive research into resolutions passed by other cities and counties; collaborated on a draft to present to the Tacoma City Council; met on numerous occasions with council members; and persisted through necessary delays while the Council dealt with the city’s budget issues.

These activists were pretty certain they could get five of the nine members to vote in favor of the resolution, but preferred to have unanimity. Lauren Walker was extremely helpful, and succeeded in bringing it before the council with co-sponsorship from Ryan Mello, Victoria Woodards, and Jake Fey. Anders Ibsen was another strong advocate. Mayor Marilyn Strickland was thought to be a supporter, but questions existed about how Marty Campbell and David Boe would vote. Joe Lonergan, the group figured, would not affirm it.

In a July meeting with about eight activists, Marty Campbell said he could support the effort to get unlimited, undisclosed money out of politics. First, however, he owed it to his constituents to deal with the significant budget shortfall the City is suffering. He agreed that spending five to ten hours a week raising money for campaigns detracts from doing the business of the city. Further, he maintained that corporations don’t have a place in politics, and PAC’s and SuperPAC’s are corporations.

During the discussion right before the vote last Tuesday, Campbell confirmed that when he first heard about this resolution, he was excited, though he thought the language needed some work. But he admitted to having a problem with the statement “Corporations are not human beings, and only human beings are endowed with Constitutional rights”. In his view, the Constitution protects people from having their rights taken away.

The decision in Citizens United, however, resulted in the dis-empowerment of human beings, who cannot afford to hire a lobbyist, or buy access to a legislator. Thus, the Constitution favors corporations over human beings, and Campbell’s assertion is incorrect. Whereas Campbell claims to support the idea, he does not like this version or direction, and voted against the resolution.

Mayor Strickland said the resolution makes a lot of sense, but would have been overjoyed if Boeing had written a big check to help pass Proposition 1 for Pierce Transit, and a lot of money in favor of the Marriage Equality Referendum came from out of state. “We do need to have some reforms,” she said, “but I can’t support this.” Apparently, she wants campaign funds for what she is in favor of, and will take the chance that those donors will out-contribute donors on the other side. The Mayor needs to understand that one cannot have it both ways.

“I have a concern on the local level,” said David Boe, referring to the fact that it takes $45,000 to run for the Council, and double that if it is a competitive race. “It’s not about who is the best candidate, but who raises the most money. If this were about no corporations donating at the local level, I’d support it. There are seven ‘whereases’, but none are about Tacoma. We’re the TACOMA City Council.” He then voted against the resolution. Perhaps as an architect, he will limit his designs to projects only within the city limits. Boe should see that this issue affects all of us, nationally and right here in Tacoma. 

Because corporations, by definition, are groups of people, Joe Lonergan felt that a lot about the resolution didn’t make sense to him, and recited right-wing talking points. “Contributions are political speech; the Supreme Court decided that. The ACLU applauded the decision as a victory for the First Amendment. Most spending in the last election was not by corporations, but by individuals.” As expected, he was a ‘nay’ sayer in the voting.

The Mayor, David Boe, and Marty Campbell may be convinced to reverse their positions. Joe Lonegran probably will not alter his views. But they need to hear from their constituents. Please call or email via the Council site to let them know your thoughts on their support or lack thereof. 

This is the beginning, not the end, of the process to achieve ‘voter-owned elections’. The Council was asked to take a political, philosophical, and, perhaps, moral position that establishes a strong basis from which to effect critical change.  The wording will change many times and the process will take more time than desired. A good question to ask is: “If you support the concept but don’t like specific wording, what is your proposal?”

With passage of the resolution, the State Legislators can take up the issue, and acknowledge that Tacoma has joined Seattle, Olympia, Bellingham, Port Townsend, and three counties in requesting a ‘memorial’ that will indicate a demand for Congress to act. (Hundreds of municipalities and several states have gone on the record to say that the Supreme Court’s decision must be nullified or overturned.) The groups who worked with their local representatives to pass resolutions want voters to contact their state representatives in January to urge favorable action on the memorial, an action that costs nothing! And it could end up saving them many hours of ‘dialing for dollars’ in future campaigns.

The Tacoma City Council members expect their constituents to bring before them a similar proposal, focused on city elections, so that actual Tacoma voters will own the electoral process. Anders Ibsen is researching the possibility of instituting publicly funded campaigns for Tacoma elections. Public funding is the ultimate goal, for all elections. More about that later. In the meantime, remember:

“Nothing good will happen for this country until we get money out of politics!”