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With a 5-1 vote the Orono Town Council passed a resolution Monday supporting a Constitutional amendment that would reverse the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision known as Citizens United, which established that corporations receive the same constitutional protections as individuals.
After the council made last-minute changes to the text of the resolution, three local residents protested that they were not given an opportunity for public comment on the revisions.
Councilor Judith Sullivan moved to suspend the rules of order to allow more public comment, but the motion gained no additional support.
“I think we’ve heard enough [public comment],” said councilor Mark Haggerty. The resolution had been discussed at a public hearing in January and at committee meetings prior to that.
Resident Daniel LaPointe, who is running for Town Council, said he and other citizens objecting to the resolution had not received a fair shake in the process, with “parliamentary procedure and rules of order” being employed to silence them.
“In committee [meetings], we were disparaged and told to sit down,” he said. “I object to how this entire process has gone. I’ve counted 56 changes to this resolution that were made without public comment.”
John Beckett of University Place echoed LaPointe’s concerns, and said an issue such as this is better put to a referendum vote.
Beckett also asked the Council members if any of them had actually read the Citizens United decision. None said they had.
“I read a summary,” said Council Chair Geoff Gordon.
Derrick Slopey, along with LaPointe and Beckett, said after the meeting that they believe a constitutional amendment of this nature would dangerously curtail the First Amendment rights of Free Speech and Assembly.
“To restrict the ability of corporations to do anything restricts the right of assembly,” explained Slopey after the meeting. “I think this threatens the little guy more than the rich and powerful, because it’s the little guys who need to band together to have their say.”
Councilor Sullivan cast the lone vote against the resolution. “I think this oversteps the sense of neutrality we should have as a council,” she said. “Someone should represent that this is not a unanimous feeling in the town.”
Councilor Thomas Spitz did not attend Monday’s meeting.
The text of the resolution reads as follows (with Monday’s changes noted):
WHEREAS, legislative efforts within the U.S. Congress have had only limited influence in controlling campaign finance and spending; and
WHEREAS, U.S. Supreme Court rulings including Citizens United (2010) have disproportionately elevated the role of special interest groups in elections; and
WHEREAS, campaign spending
by special interest groupshas continued to increase in great excess over economic growth indicators on national, state, and local levels, thereby diminishing the voices and influences of ordinary Americans including citizens of Orono; and
WHEREAS, anonymity of contributors to political funding entities robs the public of knowledge of which special interests
thatare supporting particular candidates or referenda; and
WHEREAS, excessive influence bought through campaign spending
by special interest groupscan corrupt our politicians and public officials, and adversely affect Orono’s infrastructure, schools, and other community institutions; and
WHEREAS, numerous citizens of Orono and other Maine jurisdictions have expressed to their state legislators their displeasure with excessive campaign spending
by special interest groups, and have called for effective tools to protect the democratic process, including stronger laws governing elections and campaign finance.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Orono Town Council hereby declares its support for an Amendment to the United States Constitution on Campaign Finance for the purposes of:
- Empowering federal and state governments to regulate and limit the raising and spending of funds in elections; and
- Clarifying the nature of corporations within the context of their role in the political process; and
- Clarifying the role of unions and other special interest groups within the political process; and
- Provide that federal and state governments have the ability to regulate and limit participation in political activity by corporations, unions, and special interest groups.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this resolution of the Orono Town Council shall be directed to Orono’s representatives in the 126th Maine Legislature, urging them to support and promote passage by that state body of a resolution calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution for the purposes stated above. That state-level resolution shall, in turn, be directed to Maine’s members of Congress to call upon them to actively support and promote in the Congress a United States Constitutional Amendment on Campaign Finance toward the purposes stated above. Copies of this Council resolution shall also be provided directly to Maine’s members of Congress.
Signed this 11th day of February, 2013, on behalf of the Orono Town Council.