MONEY IN POLITICS - On May 21st , in addition to electing a new mayor, five new city council members, a city attorney, a city controller and choosing from among three dueling medical marijuana propositions, Angelenos will be asked to weigh in on the issue that will ultimately determine our collective future, not only as a city, but as a country and ultimately as a species.
This is not hyperbole.
Here’s the language for Proposition C:
“Shall the voters adopt a resolution that there should be limits on political campaign spending and that corporations should not have the constitutional rights of human beings and instruct Los Angeles elected officials and area legislative representatives to promote that policy through amendments to the United States Constitution?”
The entwined issues of money in politics and the granting to corporations the rights intended for individuals under the US Constitution is the two headed snake that is poisoning our discourse and constricting our processes to a point beyond dysfunction, and beyond dysfunction can lie despair.
Despair was in the air this week after the US Senate failed to pass even the weak offering to reform our nonsensical gun policies. It was widely reported that 90% of the American people supported this legislation.
How in a democracy can 90% of the people support the passage of a law and that law not pass? In this instance we know the answer. The National Rifle Association (NRA) has more power to impact policy than the people of the United States of America.
The NRA has money to spend on political candidates and in exchange for those “donations” they expect those candidates, once elected, to repay them with votes, and they grade the politicians on their performance.
In 2010 the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) gave the NRA and all other entities and individuals license to spend unlimited amounts of cash to affect their desired political outcomes. A majority of the SCOTUS inscrutably opined that this would neither corrupt nor appear to corrupt the political process.
Unlike the SCOTUS, we know the corrosive and corrupting effects of money in politics and we see the results writ larger every day whether it’s in our inability to regulate guns or ammonium nitrate storage facilities (according to a report in the LA Times, 4/18/13, facilities like the one in Texas are common in California’s Central Valley) or the oil and gas industry or agribusiness or financial institutions.
But it’s not only the money. Let’s imagine that we were able to pass a binding measure mandating publically financed municipal elections in Los Angeles. Let’s imagine, too, that it was well thought out, popular, and Constitutional as interpreted by our City Attorney.
The day after the vote the City of Los Angeles would be sued and enjoined from implementing the new law on the grounds that we were violating the First Amendment Constitutional right of the plaintiff to speak. In today’s SCOTUS corporations can and do claim a first amendment right to speak and, thanks to a previous SCOTUS ruling, Buckley v. Valeo, 1976, money equals free speech.
Sounds impossible, doesn’t it, counter-intuitive, through the looking glass, Mad Hatter’s tea sort of stuff?
Well, it’s not.
A few Saturdays ago, on April 6th, a group of Proposition C supporters, myself included, attended a Los Angeles Alliance of Neighborhoods Councils (LAANC) meeting seeking their endorsement for Prop. C. We were nearly the last item on the agenda.
The greatest portion of the meeting was devoted to the consideration of the electronic billboards that have been sprouting in our city and are owned by Clear Channel, a company without a poker face.
When I joined the meeting a representative from Clear Channel was making the case that the electronic billboards were contributing to public safety and he supported this claim with a slide from the Christopher Dorner episode showing Mr. Dorner’s photograph and the details of his vehicle on an electronic billboard.
The LAANC members were skeptical and inquired about the percentage of billboard time that could reasonably be said to be contributing to public safety. The LAANC members were also concerned about the placement of the billboards in residential neighborhoods with lights that were cast all night, every night, in LA residents’ “bedroom windows.” The city might want to make some changes.
The Clear Channel representative was not responsive to the idea that Los Angeles might decide to impose some additional regulations on electronic billboards and he flexed his SCOTUS granted Constitutional muscle stating that such actions by the city would be challenged in court and further asserted that in similar cases the courts have been finding in favor of the free speech rights of corporations!
When the Proposition C endorsement came up for a vote it was approved by a 75% majority. One LAANC member said to me after the meeting: “This is the issue. If we don’t get this done, we’re finished.”
Proposition C is a non-binding resolution, but it has the potential to be a clarion call to our elected representatives at all levels that We the People are instructing them to fix this SCOTUS driven perversion of the Constitution through the amendment process.
Angelenos, go to the polls. I’m begging you to go to the polls. There are widespread predictions that the May 21st turnout will be dismal. Let’s defy these predictions. The more people who participate, the greater the numbers, the more weight our voices will have in City Hall, in Sacramento and in Washington DC to demand action and change.
(Michele Sutter is a volunteer organizer with The Money Out Voters In Coalition and lives in Venice.)
Vol 11 Issue 33
Pub: Apr 23, 2013