The city of South Miami and town of Cutler Bay passed resolutions urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider its 2010 Citizens United decision.
TIM CHAPMAN / MIAMI HERALD STAFF
BY PERRY STEIN - Miami Herald
When the Supreme Court made its landmark 2008 ruling in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, political warfare was unleashed. It became known among some as the “corporations are people, too” ruling.
A non-profit had produced a documentary highly critical of Hillary Clinton, who was then running to be the Democratic nominee for president. A federal court ruled that the corporation could not advertise the film too close to the time when people would be voting. But the Supreme Court decided that corporations (and labor unions) had the same rights to advertise as individuals, striking down a key portion of the McCain-Feingold law, an election reform passed in 2002 .
The ruling has become a rallying point of the left and others who believe corporate money has a corrupting influence on the electoral process. And now cities are getting into the act, including two in South Florida.
Whether any of that will make a difference is hard to say. In these times ruled by the Internet, when protests can spread virally as they have with both Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party movement, anything is possible. A proposal by Bank of America to impose a $5 monthly ATM fee on customers was overturned because of an online petition initiated by one person: Molly Katchpole, a 22-year-old recent college graduate.
The Citizens United decision — that’s the name of the organization that made the documentary — has been central to Occupy protestors who say the ruling is just another example of the corporate takeover of government.
And most recently, the city of South Miami and town of Cutler Bay passed resolutions urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider its 2010 decision.
“I thought the Supreme Court had moved in a direction that was completely counter to the intention of the founders,” said South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard, who first introduced the resolution to his city in October. “The Founding Fathers were suspicious of corporations.”
The two cities called for a constitutional amendment to redefine the word “person” to exclude legal entities.
“My statement is to my citizens, that they mean more to me than corporations,” said Peggy Bell, the Cutler Bay councilwoman who sponsored the November resolution in the town. “I want to reassure the citizens of Cutler Bay that their voices are the ones that matter.”
The municipalities’ formal positions on this national issue raise the question of whether cities should weigh in on such matters and what a resolution such as this one actually means.
Elizabeth Price Foley, a professor of law at Florida International University, said these types of resolutions mean absolutely nothing in the court law, but could hold carry some weight in the court of public opinion.
“To the extent there is an effect from this, it’s in the court of public opinion,” Price Foley said. “It’s part of a larger societal debate about an important Supreme Court decision.”
But even though the municipalities’ resolutions are symbolic in nature, not everyone thinks the local governments should weigh in. Steve Zarzecki, a Cutler Bay resident, said he thought it was “inappropriate” for local government—which are, by definition, bipartisan— to take up such a politically charged issue.
“Support of this initiative will imply support of a certain political party and consequently support of a particular candidate in the upcoming presidential election,” said Zarecki, who added that his stance had nothing to do with his own political leanings.
Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall voted against the resolution, saying that the council should focus on issues that directly impact the town.
“I’m not sure we should spend our time on national issues; we have roads and schools to build,” MacDougall said at the Nov. 16 town council meeting. “Lets spend our time and treasury here in Cutler Bay.”
Stoddard, however, says he believes change in government starts from the bottom up and hopes to gain enough traction to get the attention of lawmakers in Washington D.C.
“A lot of the times the brushfires start in the local areas,” Stoddard said.
He’s going to send South Miami’s resolution to lawmakers in Washington and is hopeful that more Miami-Dade County cities will pass resolutions and eventually get the Miami-Dade County League of Cities on board with the mission.
The protest against Citizens United, however, has already built some national momentum. A number of cities around the country have passed similar resolutions and House and Senate Democrats have introduced amendments in their respective chambers against the ruling, most recently a House amendment introduced in November that, if passed and found to be constitutional, would give Congress the power to regulate campaign contributions to federal candidates and similarly give states the power to regulate contributions in state elections.
South Miami will sponsor a workshop from 7-9 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 2. at City Hall for anyone interested with Move to Amend—a national coalition that is advocating for a way to topple the Citizens United decision.
“We represent our citizens and I have talked to a lot of citizens in South Miami who once they understood this were appalled,” Stoddard said. “Through representational government, I thought it was important for citizens to have a voice.”
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/11/26/v-fullstory/2518742/are-corporations-the-same-as-people.html#ixzz1f0hLmB7Q