SNN: Aldermen Won't Give Up Push For Campaign Finance Reform
SOMERVILLE, Mass. – Even though the mayor vetoed their proposed campaign finance reform ordinance, Alderman-at-Large Bill White and his colleagues aren't giving up.
Known as a “pay to play” law, the ordinance would limit the amount of money people hoping to do real estate development-related business with the city at $250. It passed with seven votes on September 11 but on September 23, Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone sent a letter to the Board of Alderman indicating he was vetoing it.
White, president of the Board, told Somerville Neighborhood News (SNN) that the law would be considered again in the near future.
“We’ll schedule it for a veto override vote,” White explained. “The public at large will be entitled to weigh in…That’s why you can have a veto and you can have an override. Because it then focuses more public interest and scrutiny on the issue and maybe folks will reach out and contact their elected officials.”
At the September 11 meeting, Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz explained why she supported it.
“We do things in increments, typically in legislation and in law, so I think this is an important step, and important increment,” she said. “Now is the time for us on the local level for us to take steps to try to get money out of politics.”
White told SNN that he and other aldermen were inspired to propose the ordinance after the Supreme Court “Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission” decision of January 10, 2010. The widely criticized 5-4 decision determined that “political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment.”
Spending on elections began to skyrocket almost immediately and has to continued to rise, in part because of another opinion, McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission, decided on April 2, 2014. In that decision, the 5-4 majority determined that laws could not limit donors’ aggregate spending limits.
Spending on midterm elections this year is 25 times higher than it was in 2006, according to data analyzed by Open Secrets and Mother Jones. [See link below.]
Both Supreme Court decisions have caused hundreds of organizations across the country to call for other laws to try to limit the impact of private money in political campaigns. There is even a “Move to Amend” that is seeking to amend the U.S. Constitution.
Some cities and towns – notably New York, Chicago, and a number of New Jersey communities – have already passed spending limit laws.
“I’ve always had a concern the influence that money can have,” White told SNN. “Of course, we’re a democracy and our Supreme Court has said money does, in a way, constitute free speech so folks do have the rights to contribute, but money can play a large role.”
“If folks raise someone a large sum of money, there’s going to be a natural inclination I think, in human nature, on folks’ parts, to try to help out the people who raise the money,” he continued. “Even though it’s not bribery or anything, it still has an influence on public policy that could skewer an awful lot of elections and then the results might be from folks outside of Somerville – these developers – versus what the local folks might necessarily want.”
In her plea at the September 11 meeting, Gewirtz deplored the fact that “we have a system that, frankly, allows the Maguire Group to give $6,000 to the mayor in one day. In one day.”
According to the Somerville Journal, Curtatone raised more money than any mayoral candidate in the Commonwealth for his 2013 campaign.
Analysis by SNN shows that in 2012 and 2013, the mayor received about $200,000 in donations of $500 or more. Some firms mustered as much as $12,000 over that period. Partners, employees and others associated with a firm, or from the same address, each gave $500. Perhaps one-quarter to one-third of the $500 donations appeared to be development-related.
“If we could try to scale this back a little bit so that ordinary people have more of a say in what their elected officials do every day, I think that we’ll have taken a very important step as the board of aldermen to have made the system just a little bit better,” Gewirtz said on September 11.
Many other aldermen also urged their peers to vote for the ordinance.
In the end, seven approved and four – John Connolly (at Large), Mary Jo Rossetti (at Large), Maryann Heuston (Ward 2) and Robert McWatters (Ward 3) – voted again the law, citing reasons ranging from what they called imperfections in the language to the fact that the state of Massachusetts recently raised the amount an individual can give a candidate, from $500 to $1,000.
If White and his allies can garner one more vote, the ordinance will pass.
Citizens United decision – http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/citizens-united-v-federal-ele...
McCutcheon decision – http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/mccutcheon-v-federal-election...
Move to Amend – https://movetoamend.org/
Mother Jones article on political spending – http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/01/4-years-after-citizens-uni...
Open Secrets – https://www.opensecrets.org/
Maguire Group Inc. – http://www.cdrmaguire.com/
Somerville Journal article on September 11 meeting – http://hingham.wickedlocal.com/article/20140918/News/140916512
Mass. Office of Campaign and Political Finance – http://www.ocpf.us/Home/