The Kirkland City Council approved a resolution Feb. 19 supporting a national movement that would disallow corporations the same political speech protections as those afforded to individuals.
The move, if ultimately passed at the national level, would prohibit corporate spending from influencing campaigns and elections.
The council voted 4-2 to pass Resolution 4967, which states that only humans – not corporations – are persons under the constitution for purposes of regulating elections and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech. The resolution also supports limits on a corporation’s ability to spend money during local and national elections.
Councilwoman Penny Sweet and Councilman Toby Nixon voted against the measure, which also urges the state Legislature and the U.S. Congress to take action to correct the “unbridled ability” of corporations to spend money during elections.
“I’m pleased that we got a win,” said Kirkland resident Bill LaMarche, a member of Move to Amend, a non-partisan group comprised of several local residents.
Move to Amend members initially presented their cause to the council last September, along with 350 petition-signatures supporting the measure.
Move to Amend connects small local groups and statewide organizations with hopes to eventually change the ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission.
In 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United, which defined corporations as “people.” LaMarche says this resulted in giving corporations all the Constitutional protections that an individual has but without restraints.
But he contends that corporations are not people. While big corporations like Weyerhaeuser and the Boeing Co. are made up of individuals with inalienable rights, the corporations themselves are “groups” and should not be treated as individuals.
“Corporations have no consciences, no desires,” said LaMarche, citing the dissenting opinion in the Citizens United ruling.
He said lucrative corporations have “unfair assets.”
“All we are saying is money should be regulated, that corporations do not have the same rights as individuals versus an artificial entity,” said LaMarche. “How can you compete as an individual against corporations like Boeing? You just can’t.”
He said groups of people within a corporation should still be allowed to donate money to campaigns or elections, but the amount of money should be limited and individual donors should be identified.
LaMarche said some consumers were dismayed when former Costco CEO Jim Sinegal spent roughly $20 million to promote the liquor privatization measure that voters approved last year.
“If you were really upset at that, you stopped shopping at Costco,” said LaMarche. “That was a risk he took but it was fair.”
During the Feb. 19 council meeting, Nixon expressed his strong opposition against the resolution. He referred to the Move to Amend’s proposal as a “huge over-reaction,” in a December letter to the council.
“The constitutionally-guaranteed right of freedom of assembly allows groups of individuals to join together and pool their resources, thereby amplifying their constitutionally-guaranteed rights of free speech and to petition their government, and to seek to more effectively influence elections and legislation,” wrote Nixon. “This includes membership corporations, such as labor unions and groups focused on particular topics such as the NRA. It is the people who make up a corporation who are doing their rights, not the corporation as some detached amorphous entity.”
He said the “broad, sweeping” constitutional amendment that the Move to Amend groups seek “could interfere with the very real rights of individual citizens to join their voices together and take political action.”
LaMarche says the council’s approval of the resolution is more of a symbolic gesture.
But he hopes with enough cities behind the measure that it will eventually get state approval to “put pressure on the federal government to amend the Constitution.”
Kirkland joins eight other cities throughout the state that have passed similar measures. Kirkland Move to Amend members said that 11 states have also passed resolutions so far.
LaMarche said the cities of Redmond, Edmonds and Everett have requested Move to Amend’s assistance on potentially drafting a similar measure and he plans to continue his efforts regionally.