Northfield Township puts ‘Citizens United’ referendum on November ballot
Updated: May 28, 2012 8:36AM
Voters in Northfield Township will be asked in November whether they favor an amendment to the U.S. Constitution aimed at limiting the influence of private money in elections.
The measure, though different than one being pushed nationally by the organization Move to Amend, is similar and has a similar goal.
Both were prompted by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case. That decision has resulted in the creation of superpacs, political action committees financed in many cases by one or a few wealthy supporters of a candidate.
During the Republican primary race season, that money has gone to finance massive attack ads against opponents in several states.
The 5-4 decision held that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. While corporations or unions may not give money directly to campaigns, they may seek to persuade the voting public through other means, including ads.
A group of township residents brought the resolution to the Northfield Township Board earlier this month during the annual Town Meeting. It was approved by the board with just one member, Brendan Appel, voting against it.
The referendum is not binding. The wording will be as follows:
“Should the United States Constitution be amended to limit the use of corporate, special interest and private money in any political activity, including influencing the election of any candidate for public office?”
Sharon Sanders headed the group that brought the measure to the township meeting.
Sanders said the goal of placing the measure on the ballot is to educate the public about the Citizens United decision and its impact on elections.
“The solution to me is to get enough people involved,” Sanders said. “Most people are in favor of an amendment like this.”
“It’s strictly a learning thing, to let people know about it.”
Sanders herself said the amendment may not be the best way to deal with the issue, but if nothing else it will help spread information about the issue.
“I’m not sure if an amendment is the way to go, but we’re doing it,” she said.
A similar measure is being placed in the ballot in several other townships, she said, and efforts are underway to get it on the ballot in the City of Chicago as well.
The Town Meeting offered the best chance to raise the issue in the suburbs, Sanders said. She was required to obtain petitions signed by just 15 registered voters to be placed on the meeting agenda.
Sanders, while noting that she is a capitalist, said she is concerned that the Citizens United decision is giving large corporations and wealthy individuals too much influence over the political process and in turn government. In addition to removing any limit on the size of donations to groups like superpacs, the decision allows those donations to be made anonymously.
“People don’t understand the impact of Citizens United,” Sanders said. “People don’t make the connection.”