Alachua County Citizens United Advisory Referendum: "Corporations are not People, Money is not Speech" (November 2014)
|Alachua County Citizens United Referendum|
|Referred by:||County Commission|
|Topic:||Definition of a corporation|
This measure gives voters a chance to say whether they approve or disapprove of amending the U.S. Constitution to establish that corporations are not people and do not have the rights of a person with regard to campaign contributions and free speech and to establish that money is not speech, thus excluding campaign contributions and spending from first amendment constitutional protection. This measure is a non-binding, advisory referendum that would not directly enact any legislation or change any laws.
On February 11, 2014, the County Commission, urged by the group Move to Amend Gainseville, voted three against two to put the referendum on the ballot. Commissioner Mike Byerly said, “This issue powerfully affects government at all levels. I think this is the political issue of our times.”
In 2012, a similar referendum was proposed but it received a three to two vote from the commission at that time in opposition to the measure. Baird and Pinkoson, who repeated their dissent in 2014, along with former Commissioner Winston Bradley, were the three "no" votes in 2012.
Citizens United decision
The movement to amend the U.S. Constitution to remove corporations and money from first amendment protections followed a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case, which interpreted the first amendment to allow unlimited spending by unions, organizations and corporations in political candidate campaigns.
- Move to Amend Gainesville
The following commissioners voted to put the referendum on the ballot:
- Commissioner Mike Byerly
- Commissioner Charles Chestnut, IV
- Commissioner Robert Hutchinson
Arguments in favor
Commissioner Chestnut said, "It's a straw poll. It's not binding. One of the most important things that came to mind is 'what about the little guy?' It becomes an issue between haves and have-nots. Corporations can raise a lot of money. They can create PACs … So, what about the individual. I think the Founding Fathers wanted individuals to have rights, not corporations.”
Move to Amend Gainesville communications director Harry Patterson said, "It needs to be on the ballot because rights of people to control their government and the electoral process have been subverted by money.”
The following commissioners voted against putting the referendum on the ballot:
- County Commissioner Susan Baird
- County Commissioner Lee Pinkoson
Commissioner Pinkoson expressed concern that adding the referendum to the ballot will put pressure on the commission to approve other non-binding referenda on other issues.
Pinkoson said, “I'm not going to support it tonight because we open up the door to anyone else who comes in. If we do a straw vote, all it will do ultimately is create some confusion to some people that we've done something when in fact all we've done is taken a straw vote. If we really want to have an effect, we need to get it on the federal agenda, because that's the way it has to be done.”
Commissioner Baird said, “I honestly don't think we need to be involved in this right now. I definitely vote strongly against this.”
An Alachua County resident named Gene Keith said, concerning the vote of the commissioners, “I wish it were 3-2 the other way. It's already decided by the Supreme Court. We don't have the time and money to waste on that when we have so many other issues.”
Path to the ballot
Responding to lobbying from the Gainesville branch of the group Move to Amend and a resolution from the Gainesville City Commission requesting the County Commission to give the referendum a place on the ballot, the County Commission voted to put this non-binding referendum before voters on November 4, 2014. There were two dissenting county commissioners, Susan Baird and Lee Pinkoson.