There’s way too much money in politics. The airwaves are getting crammed with low-information attack ads. Ordinary people hardly ever have political conversations with anyone with very fifferentviews anymore.
Just about everybody agrees with those points, but many figure there’s nothing you can do about them. This November in Champaign and Urbana, we do get to do something. There should be two referenda on the ballot, one in both towns and the other in Urbana (maybe Champaign too, stay tuned) one aimed at curbing the role of big money and the other at enhancing the voice of ordinary citizens. These referenda got on the ballot by votes at township meetings. We hope this short article will help introduce the referenda and get some discussion going. There are bound to be questions and arguments, so we expect to follow up with a more detailed article as those develop.
1) Support the Move To Amend, which will allow us to restore some of the laws limiting big $ in politics.
In 2010 the Supreme Court threw out almost all laws limiting corporate $ in politics.
This Citizens United decision said corporations are “persons” with the same rights as actual citizens.
The court had already held that “money is speech”. That allowed very wealthy candidates to spend
without limit. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buckley_v._Valeo)
Now we’re swamped with an enormous increase in political ads, mainly from undisclosed funders, almost all on the far-right end of the spectrum. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/08/super-pac-dark-money-charts-sheldon-adelson-demos) We can’t do much to limit this assault without undoing those court decisions, and the only way to do that is via a constitutional amendment. Several versions are being circulated in Congress. They won’t be adopted without major public pressure. Many government bodies (e.g. the Vermont legislature) have voted to endorse this move to amend. (see, e.g. http://movetoamend.org/resolutions-map)
We can add to the pressure by voting Yes on the referenda here this November. If our city councils then adopt these resolutions too, that’s great, but our vote by itself already sends a message. Similar referenda are on the ballot in many cites around the country.
2) Support non-disruptive free political speech in public spaces like malls. There aren’t very many outlets for people to communicate about politics with anybody other than their own in-group, except by spending huge amounts of money on those obnoxious media buys. Some old standbys, petitioning and leafleting, have gotten a lot more difficult because most of the public spaces where people are on foot have been converted to private malls and their parking lots.
While it takes a national movement to get a constitutional amendment, free-speech laws can be passed locally. In California, the entire state allows some regulated political free speech in malls, thanks to the free-speech provision of their state constitution. So we know it can be done without disrupting commerce.
The second referendum (in Urbana, and maybe Champaign) calls on the city councils to pass laws allowing for regulated, non-disruptive free speech in malls and their parking lots. The details would be worked out by the city councils, who can be counted on to show the needed concern (and, in Champaign, maybe a lot more) for the businesses that are important to their tax bases.
So the first referendum contributes to the national movement to limit the overwhelming, rapidly growing role of big money in politics. The second aims to open up more old-fashioned channels for ordinary citizens to communicate on politics. We hope everybody votes Yes on both.
Addendum: A possible complication has arisen, in that the County Clerk says that referenda are to be phrased as questions starting with “shall”, and ours aren’t. We’re hoping that this gets treated as a simple matter of democracy, not as a tricky game with rules from Jeopardy. As we go to press, it appears likely that the referenda will appear, perhaps prefaced with “Shall the following referendum be adopted?”, but we aren’t sure yet. A “Yes” vote will still be pro-referendum.