Politics & Government

Local group, Move to Amend, targets money’s effect on politics

A national movement with the aim of blunting the corrosive influence of money on the country’s political system and government is shifting its campaign into a higher gear locally, as its members seek the support of local governments.

Move to Amend moved a resolution through the San Luis Obispo City Council last month that supports its efforts to restrict spending on political campaigns by pushing for a constitutional amendment.

The organization’s members are meeting with individual members of the county Board of Supervisors to pursue a similar resolution, and they hope to eventually find backing from all seven of the county’s cities.

The organization is trying to fight the effects of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in January 2010 called Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission.

The court ruled that limits on independent expenditures by corporations violate the First Amendment right to free speech. In layman’s terms, the court equated money with speech.

Combined with an earlier Supreme Court decision that said corporations are people, Citizens United opened the door to a virtually unregulated flow of money into political campaigns.

The decisions, opponents of Citizens United say, have created a scenario under which corporations spending millions of dollars on paid political advertisements are no different from a local guy standing on the street corner and asking people to “vote for Smith.” It is a false equivalency, said Bill Ostrander of Move to Amend SLO.

Ostrander says the effect of unregulated money is evident in the presidential election this year between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, the fight for Congress in the Central Coast’s 24th District between Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, and her GOP challenger Abel Maldonado, and other races around the nation.

The money raised is generally transformed into negative political advertisements that damage a governmental system that is supposed to be based on an informed electorate, Ostrander said.

American citizens instead are becoming “a jaded electorate, overwhelmed by information,” much of it misleading or downright inaccurate, according to San Luis Obispo City Councilman John Ashbaugh, who supported his city’s resolution.

The ultimate aim of Move to Amend is a constitutional amendment to blunt the effect of Citizens United. Other groups, including Ralph Nader’s Public Citizen and a movement headed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, are on a similar path.

Move to Amend has put forth tentative wording for a constitutional amendment, but because there is no consensus yet among these groups, the final wording remains vague and elusive, although the general principle of lessening the deleterious effects of money in politics remains intact.

Amending the constitution is a tall order. Only 27 constitutional amendments have been enacted in the nation’s history.

Article 5 of the Constitution says Congress, with a two-thirds majority vote in the House and the Senate, can propose an amendment. If it passes there, it goes to the states, where it must be ratified by three-fourths of state legislatures.

It is by no means certain that Move to Amend will draw support from the Board of Supervisors, which is reluctant to take positions on issues it considers national in scope and not local.

“We typically don’t do stuff like that,” said Chairman Jim Patterson, although he said he is receptive to the idea. Supervisor Adam Hill said he would write an individual letter of support but is not certain whether the board as a whole will take it up.

The San Luis Obispo City Council said it supports Move to Amend’s contention that “inalienable rights belong to human beings only, and that spending money on campaigns is not a form of protected free speech under the First Amendment and can be regulated.”