City backs Move to Amend
Published: Friday, January 11, 2013 at 5:25 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 11, 2013 at 5:25 p.m.
The national push to undo the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling and limit corporate political contributions has gained an ally in the Gainesville City Commission.
On Jan. 3, the City Commission passed a resolution supporting Move to Amend and urging the County Commission to place a non-binding referendum to measure its support countywide on the 2014 ballot.
The national movement commissioners backed is focused on reversing the high court decision that expanded the First Amendment rights of corporations and allowed corporations and unions the ability to make unlimited political contributions — provided they are not direct contributions to candidates.
They seek a constitutional amendment to make those changes — something that would require two-thirds approval in each house of Congress and ratification by three-quarters of the states.
Locally, a Gainesville Move to Amend affiliate formed in late 2011 and has received more than 1,400 signatures of support to date, said member and High Springs resident Harry Patterson.
Patterson said the affiliate's goal is to fight the influence of "big money" in American politics — whether it comes from corporations, labor unions or deep-pocketed individuals.
He compared Move to Amend to the Occupy movement — a grass-roots "horizontal" organization with no top-down leadership.
On. Jan. 3, the City Commission passed its resolution 5-1, with Todd Chase in dissent and Susan Bottcher absent.
During a discussion of the issue at a November meeting, Chase said it served no purpose for the city to push for a non-binding referendum on a federal issue on what might be a crowded 2014 ballot.
"What's the purpose?" Chase asked.
He noted there was a similar reaction when the Legislature placed an amendment to oppose the federal health care overhaul, often dubbed Obamacare, on the crowded 2012 ballot.
Commissioner Lauren Poe said any push for a constitutional amendment needs to show widespread local support across the country.
"The constitutional amendment process really is a national issue," Poe said. "It has to be. There has to be a lot of grass-roots support for any changes to our Constitution, and rightfully so. It should be difficult."
Poe said he believed the country needs "to fundamentally change how we do elections and take away the influence of large donors."
The City Commission had mulled putting a referendum on its upcoming March ballot. But the City Attorney's Office raised legal concerns. State law gives county governments the authority to place non-binding referendums on "issues of substantial concern within the county" on the ballot, City Attorney Nicolle Shalley wrote in an October memo. There was no similar language in the city charter.
That raised concerns over the First Amendment and the possibility of legal challenges if city commissioners began to select which political issues could go before voters in a non-binding referendum.
The memo noted that cities including South Miami, Tampa, Cutler Bay and Key West had passed resolutions in favor of Move to Amend but none had scheduled a referendum.
Down the road, the local movement will go back before the County Commission. Supporters had sought to get a referendum on the ballot in November, but it was rejected 3-2 with commissioners Lee Pinkoson, Susan Baird and former Commissioner Winston Bradley in opposition.
At the time, Bradley said he flipped from support to opposition after he read articles on the Move to Amend website that "lambasted" Republicans and concluded it was not a non-partisan movement.
Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.