Upland Council Mulls Resolution Calling For Amendment Allowing Campaign Donation Limits

(September 27) UPLAND – Despite the resistance of city councilman Brendan Brandt, Brandt and his council colleagues will soon give consideration to passing a resolution calling upon the U.S. Congress to consider passage of a Constitutional amendment limiting the amount of money corporations can contribute to political campaigns.
A series of factors led to the council’s 4-1 vote this week calling upon the city attorney to draft a resolution to be presented at the next council meeting. There has been growing sentiment at the national, state and local level to limit the influence of money on the political process. That movement resulted in the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, the California Political Reform Act of 1974, the Federal Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 and a campaign finance limitation ordinance passed by the Upland City Council last year that was revamped earlier this year.
A group, Citizens United, which sought to be able to utilize money available to it from a disparate number of sources, including private donors, political action committees and corporations, to produce and broadcast films, including movies and documentaries advocating for and against the election or reelection of certain candidates on a national level, brought suit to establish its right to do so. In that suit, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the United States Supreme Court in 2010 held in a 5-4 vote that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations, associations, or labor unions.
Advocates of campaign contribution limits were undeterred by the sharply divided ruling of the highest court in the land. Further strengthened by a dissenting opinion authored by Justice John Paul Stevens that stated, “A democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold,” those advocates, including Common Cause, are undertaking an effort to convince Congress to add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would render moot the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision.
For several months now, activists have been approaching local governmental officials, calling upon them to pass resolutions asking Congress to effectuate enforceable campaign spending limits by instilling into the U.S. Constitution, through the amendment process, the right to impose campaign donation and spending limits.
Undoing the Supreme Court’s equating of being able to make unlimited campaign donations with free speech is of particular relevance in Upland. Previously, the city council had enacted an ordinance applicable to city campaigns that set the maximum contribution candidates were allowed to receive from any individual, organization or entity to $2,000 per two-year election cycle.
In April, the city council revised that campaign contribution limit ordinance downward, reducing the maximum contribution candidates are allowed to receive from any single donor to $1,000 per election.
City officials collectively expressed the view that such limitations were needed to prevent big money and special interests from having undue influence over the political and governmental process. In Upland, the issue of political influence is of special sensitivity because of the city’s recent travail with former mayor John Pomierski, who dominated the city politically for a decade, utilizing hefty campaign contributions to keep himself in office and ward off any political challenges. Simultaneously, Pomierski was soliciting bribes and utilizing his position at City Hall to ensure project and permit approval from the city’s planning and community development divisions, its planning commission and council for his cronies, his political contributors and those paying him graft money. He was indicted by a federal grand jury, was convicted last year and is now serving his sentence in a federal institution.
Two Upland citizens, Mary Lou Williams and Curt Lewis, as well as the Southern California  organizer for Common Cause, John  Smith, came before the city council on Monday, September 23, to ask the council to pass a resolution supporting Congressional action in adopting a Constitutional amendment establishing campaign contribution limits.
Councilman Brendan Brandt, while maintaining he was not opposed to the underlying intent of establishing and maintaining campaign contribution limits, said he did not think it appropriate for the city council to get involved in what is essentially a federal issue. He said he did not want the city to set a precedent of passing resolutions relating to advocacy for or against U.S. Congressional action.
Brandt suggested that a ballot measure by which the city’s voters could make their views on the subject known would be proper, although he noted that the cost of such an electoral undertaking would probably prove prohibitive. He made a motion to have the council officially remain clear of the effort and allow Common Cause or other interested residents undertake to put such a measure on the local ballot if they so wish.
Councilman Glenn Bozar, however, saying he was mindful of the expense putting such a referendum on the ballot would entail, questioned why the city could not simply draft a resolution and have the council, speaking on behalf of the Upland community, pass the resolution and endorse the call for Congressional action on the issue. He offered a superseding motion to that end. Mayor Ray Musser and council members Gino Filippi and Debby Stone supported Bozar’s motion, with Brandt opposed.
Fillipi, who has proven to be the current council’s major recipient of campaign cash based upon donor support to his successful campaign for the council in 2010 and his unsuccessful run for mayor last year, supported Bozar’s motion, even though he had earlier objected to the terms of the campaign finance restrictions imposed by the council.
In their presentation to the council, Williams, Lewis and Smith suggested that the city involve itself in the campaign finance reform movement at the national level because the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision could pave the way for challenges to locally imposed restrictions.

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