Spin Control

MONDAY, MARCH 12, 2012, 10:27 P.M.

Council rejects recommendation to limit corporate political spending

Most Spokane City Council members said Monday that they don’t like the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision that prevents lawmakers from limiting some forms of political spending by corporations.

But there wasn’t a majority who supported asking lawmakers to do anything about it.

The council rejected a nonbinding resolution asking Congress and state legislatures to amend the Constitution to reverse the decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment barred Congress from creating spending limits on corporations in political campaigns, though the court left intact the ability to limit direct donations to candidates.

Councilwoman Amber Waldref, who sponsored the resolution, Councilman Jon Snyder and Council President Ben Stuckart supported the resolution. Council members Mike Allen, Mike Fagan and Steve Salvatori rejected it. Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin was absent.

More than a dozen testified in support of the resolution. Only a couple of people, including a representative from Greater Spokane Inc., spoke against it.

Many supporters said they were outraged that the Supreme Court granted corporations the same free speech rights that individuals have.

“The 99 percent is not represented,” said April Beasley, who is active in Occupy Spokane. “I like to know that my vote counts.”

But Sandra Jarrard, of Greater Spokane, argued that a resolution promoting campaign spending limits on corporations could discourage businesses from moving to Spokane.

“This to me doesn’t look pro-business,” she said.

Stuckart said when he campaigned last year for City Council president a lobbyist for a corporation he didn’t name suggested that employees were planning to give to his campaign. But after Stuckart gave his opinion on an issue, the lobbyist indicated donations would be withheld.

“He said, ‘Well, if you change your mind, call me back,’” Stuckart said.

Stuckart said if corporations are willing to use their money as carrots in a City Council campaign, it’s a sign that limits are needed, especially in higher profile races in which politicians are pressured to raise millions.

“So think about my $80,000 City Council race,” said Stuckart, who underestimated how much he raised by $38,000. “Then think what happens at a Congressional level when you have to raise $2 million and $3 million.”

But some council members questioned spending time on a nonbinding issue related to the federal Constitution. The hearing on the topic last about 1 ½ hours.

“I’d rather stick to city business as much as possible,” said Councilman Mike Allen. “We have no influence over there in the long-run.”

Fagan said that amending the Constitution would not make a difference because people could still misinterpret it.

“I frankly believe that the Constitution was perfect the way it was written,” Fagan said.

After questioning from Snyder, Fagan said he meant that it’s perfect as it’s currently written with its amendments. But he added: “I do not believe that it is a living document.”

Elliot Fabric, who testified in support, said debate about the issue isn't over in Spokane.

"A lot of us are discussing the next step, which is to take an initiative straight to the people," he said.

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Jonathan Brunt
Jonathan Brunt is an assistant city editor.

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