Upland Council Calls For Constitutional Amendment Limiting Campaign Donations

(October 17) A divided Upland City Council this week passed a resolution calling upon the U.S. Congress to approve a Constitutional amendment limiting the amount of money corporations can contribute to political campaigns.
At its September 23 meeting, the city council heard from members of Common Cause and other local political reform advocates who appealed to the council to join in a nationwide effort to limit the influence of money on the political process.
While a number of laws and reforms have been instituted over the years – including 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  – those efforts ran into a serious challenge as the result of a Supreme Court Decision that equates the provision of campaign money with free speech.
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 reaffirm 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 decision 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 that 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.
On September 23, the Upland City Council voted 4-1, with councilman Brendan Brandt dissenting, to have the city attorney draft a resolution calling upon 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.
For several months now, activists have been approaching local governmental officials, calling upon them to pass resolutions asking Congress for the Constitutional amendment. Prior to Upland’s action this week, 46 city councils in California’s 407 cities had passed such resolutions.
Undoing the Supreme Court’s enabling of unfettered campaign donations 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.
The council this week considered two resolution drafts prepared by the city attorney. Two Upland citizens, Mary Lou Williams and Curt Lewis, as well as the Southern California  organizer for Common Cause, John  Smith, who had come before the city council on  September 23 to ask the council to pass the resolution supporting Congressional action in adopting a Constitutional amendment establishing campaign contribution limits were on hand October 14 to reiterate that call. Lewis noted that over $7 billion in political contributions had been made at all levels of government in the 2012 election year.
Prior to voting to endorse the most strongly worded of the two resolutions authored by the city attorney, the council discussed the advisability, practicality and propriety of having the city council, on behalf of Upland and its citizens, directly petition Congress for any action in general or particular.
Councilman Brendan Brandt, while maintaining he was not opposed to the underlying intent of establishing and maintaining campaign contribution limits, said “I don’t believe we as a city council should set a precedent of recommending amendments to the U.S. Constitution. From my perspective, you potentially set a dangerous course when you take on federal issues. I have voted in favor of every campaign finance and ethics [law] in the city of Upland but if we deal with this outside our jurisdiction, we don’t have money for that. If we [vote for the resolution],  when  every group that comes in here wants a resolution against Row vs. Wade or Obamacare, we are not going to have a defense of ‘the city doesn’t get involved in those things.’ I will write my Congressman or Senator or the Supreme Court, but I think we have set upon a slippery slope when groups come down here and ask our city attorney to spend time on things we don’t have money for. I don’t think the city council should be involved in asking for amendments to the U.S. Constitution.”
Councilman Glenn Bozar, upon whose motion on September 23 the council directed the city attorney to draft a resolution, cited the $7 billion Lewis had referenced, and said that people of all political stripe were asking “When is this going to stop? This is a genuine concern about what is going on with this country. I don’t have a problem taking a stand on this on behalf of my city or its citizens. If a poll was taken about money and how it is corrupting the political process, there is going to be a supermajority that believe this. I think we should let Congress know how we stand on it.”
Councilwoman Debby Stone said “We have to do something. We have to stop the money somewhere. If this will help them do that, I am in favor of it.”
Councilman Gino Filippi, who previously supported the drafting of the resolution, made clear he has reconsidered and that he was in the Citizens United camp as opposed to being on Common Cause’s side. The scion of a local winemaking family who had used his family’s wealth to launch his successful political career and fund his run for council, Filippi said, “I treasure my ability to invest my own money in my campaign and I’ve been criticized for that.  Upland has the strictest campaign finance restrictions perhaps of all of the neighboring cities.” He indicated he would abide by the campaign finance regulations that are already in place but would not support restricting any further limiting the ability of those who want to donate to the candidates of their choice from being involved in the political process.
The council voted 3-1 to pass the resolution, with Mayor Ray Musser, Bozar and Stone prevailing over Filippi, who voted against it. Brandt abstained.

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