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City council IS appropriate place to battle Citizens United

Updated: December 8, 2012 6:26AM

This is in response to Jeff Ward’s column Oct. 29 titled “No point in council taking issue with this.”

Fox Valley Citizens for Peace & Justice has asked the Elgin City Council to pass a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. We did NOT ask the city council to pass a resolution in support of our ballot question on the Nov. 6 ballot. (That strange misunderstanding was put forth by the city corporation counsel at the Oct. 10 council meeting.) Instead, we asked them to pass their own, separate and distinct resolution. With the election over, we will go back to the city to ask again.

Jeff Ward wrote that those of us who ask the council to do this are practicing “lazy activism.” He suggests that we should start by becoming precinct committee persons within one of the two major parties and attempt to press our cause within the electoral structure. But many of us are already current or former precinct committee persons. We have, over many years, done plenty of grunt work on electoral contests. We are fully aware of what can and cannot be accomplished there. Jeff seems unaware.

Jeff agrees with us that the Citizens United decision was a bad decision. But he appears totally unaware of the radical implications of that decision and how they will impact small cities like Elgin in profound ways.

The Citizens United decision has so profoundly corrupted the two major political parties, especially at the national level, that no candidate for president or U.S. Senate can even get nominated without the backing of millionaires or billionaires or corporate money. That means nobody can get nominated who represents the needs of ordinary people. Nobody who is not backed by millions of dollars can reasonably hope to run successfully for any national office. No matter how much grunt work a person has done at the precinct level, or how much service she or he has rendered on a school board or county board, multinational corporations vet the candidates and will sabotage the candidacy of anyone who is not committed to the corporate agenda. I have watched this happen.

This power of Big Money to influence elections started when the Supreme Court, in the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision, said “money is speech.” It has grown larger every year since then but escalated dramatically with the 2010 Citizens United decision.

When you and I walk into the voting booth, we get to choose between two corporate-backed candidates. He or she will be required to attend first to the agenda of the National Chamber of Commerce or the American Legislative Exchange Council or the Wall Street banks or the oil industry. If there is any energy or taxpayer money left over, he or she may even direct it toward the measures we support, but only if those measures do not curtail corporate power or profit.

A striking example is the silence about climate change from the White House and Capitol Hill since 2010, when Citizens United came into effect. The fossil fuel industry and their allies will target, smear and take down any national elected official who calls for legislation to fight climate change.

Thousands of environmentalists across the country did grunt work on electoral campaigns, and got no response from those they elected. Their voices were drowned out by the power of huge, often anonymous contributions through the new super PACs. Climate change is only one example.

This deep corruption of our electoral process affects the presidency, Senate and most of Congress. Soon it also will affect the races for governor, state legislature, and even city council. Wealthy developers or contractors who want to bend the Elgin City Council to their will can simply (and anonymously) create a super PAC, which can send out a flood of mailers and run TV and radio ads that viciously smear any council members who oppose them.

Across the U.S., city councils and townships, several in Illinois, have passed or are considering resolutions to overturn Citizens United. The ONLY way to overturn it is from the bottom up. We need to start in city councils. From there, we must create enough momentum that our elected officials will not be able to ignore us.

This is an attempt to reclaim our electoral system and our democracy from the power of the multinational corporations who have grabbed it. Is it really “pandering” for Elgin’s City Council to take action on this matter?

Mary Shesgreen of Elgin is a member of Fox Valley Citizens for Peace & Justice.

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