Tompkins County
New York

Resolution
RES-2012-108

Proposed Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

Information

Department:Tompkins County LegislatureSponsors:
Category:Legislation or Funding - State and Federal

Resolution/Document Body

WHEREAS, Democracy and Liberty are the twin pillars upon which our nation was founded, has prospered, and continues to rest, and

 

WHEREAS, the elections in which we choose those who govern us are the most basic events that test and define our democracy, and

 

WHEREAS, the first amendment's prohibition of any abridgment of freedom of speech is a statement of faith that democracy works best when there is a free flow of information and beliefs, and

 

WHEREAS, the founders of our nation could never have anticipated the degree to which several Supreme Court decisions together with the wealth and technology currently available to wealthy individuals, corporations, and other entities in America have made it possible for a single person, corporation, or entity to anonymously drown out the collective voices of everyone else, and

 

WHEREAS, each and every American's precious right of free speech becomes meaningless unless their words have a reasonable chance of being heard, and

 

WHEREAS, the degree to which highly funded Political Action Committees can influence the outcome of elections has been amply demonstrated in recent election cycles, and

 

WHEREAS, these Supreme Court decisions have made it impossible for the legislative process to restore the integrity of federal, state, and local elections, and

 

WHEREAS, the right of all people to speak and be heard is a bedrock principle of any nation that aspires to be free and democratic, now therefore be it

 

RESOLVED, on recommendation of the Government Operations Committee, That the Tompkins County Legislature urges the United States Congress to craft an amendment to the United States Constitution to allow federal and state governments to ban, limit, or otherwise regulate all broadcast and cable advertisements, other than those financed by the candidates or their political parties, that directly refer to candidates during and immediately prior to elections.  Any such bans, limitations, or regulations must be enforced equally for all persons and entities no matter what ideas and policies they support or oppose, and must be consistent with the first amendment's freedom of press clause.

SEQR ACTION:  TYPE II-20

Meeting History

May 11, 2012 9:30 AM  Government Operations Committee Regular Meeting

Mr. Stein said he did not agree with Mr. Tiffany's stance regarding this resolution and chose to amend his initial resolution as a result of continued study and reflection on the issue. Originally he believed it was critical to overrule the Citizens United decision, however, the more he studied and learned he believes that the problem is the amount spent in third-party political advertising, which does not relate to the Citizens United decision. Mr. Stein believes the immediate problem is that of third-party anonymous political advertising, which is dangerous and critical and should be changed. The other problems associated with corporate personhood are subtle and is not a critical event that would challenge the validity of democracy. Mr. Stein said corporate funds used for advertising shows 86 percent is from rich individuals, and to eliminate the ability to fund advertising requires an amendment to constitution. The First Amendment limited Congress and says free speech cannot be limited. While those who crafted the amendment believed all should be allowed to have a voice, they could not imagine the power to convince such as modern broadcast media and those with money drown out the voice of others. He does not see a problem with the Valero decision, which says supporters cannot put unlimited funds into a campaign.

Ms. Chock said she respects the time Mr. Stein has put into the issue but she believes his conclusion to only address broadcast and cable advertisement doesn't follow what most have said, and she recommends support of the Citizens United resolution. Original founders built in free speech, but do not have a system with equal weight of speech as the First Amendment.

Mr. Lane said he supports the resolution and that Mr. Stein has given the matter a great deal of thought and that based on discussions he had hoped there would be a companion resolution rather than having to make a choice. He does not have a problem restricting corporations and agrees that they should not automatically have rights of natural people, however, he would like a separate resolution regarding that aspect.

Ms. Pryor expressed concerns that a resolution asking to overturn the decision regarding corporations could have unintended consequences if not properly reviewed and refined to address the specific issue of using the right of corporate personhood to influence elections. She is disappointed that supporters of the Citizens United resolution seem to have characterized those not supporting their resolution as not understanding negative outcomes or not being supportive of limiting corporate rights of free speech in elections. She fully understands that the concerns need to be addressed, however, supporting a resolution that would totally overturn the decision is not the right way to do this.

Mr. Stein stated a Point of Order that the Committee should only be debating the resolution on the floor.

Ms. Mackesey said that when Congress considers an amendment to the Constitution there are massive forces in opposition to changes. If the people in favor to change the dynamics of corporations are able to move forward in relation to corporate personhood the public may not know the full ramification. She believes the business world could be destroyed by passing a resolution on corporate personhood. She believes if a middle-of-the-road position is taken nothing will happen. There is a problem to be fixed and if the resolution fosters discussion and changes it is good.

Mr. Stein said he spent time reviewing amendments to the Constitution and that the last five amendments are extremely narrow and focused. The resolution being proposed conforms to that type of change; it is clear what is being asked for and why.

Mr. Burbank appreciates the discussion and said the issue is something without control and is a symbolic act. He thanked Mr. Stein for his efforts, however, he believes it is a faulty conclusion reached. He recognized Ms. Pryor’s concerns that eliminating corporate personhood could eliminate corporate rights, however, giving a corporation the rights of human beings is relatively new. He believes something to look at and understand eliminating corporate personhood is not same as doing away with corporations at all. He does not support the resolution and said that although the resolution may be thoughtful or useful, it does not connect with the larger movement around the country to amend the Constitution.

Mr. Tiffany said there is a loophole regarding print media that allows full-page ads. Although he does not have concerns with Mr. Stein’s resolution it does not address what happens in Washington, DC, throughout the year.

Ms. Pryor said it is her understanding that the resolution on the floor is not intended to replace any others that may come forward. Although she heard two people saying they are opposed, there is nothing wrong with moving it forward. She suggested acting on this resolution and others that may come forward could be reviewed.

Ms. Robertson said she thinks it is appropriate to discuss both resolutions that will be considered. She does not support Mr. Stein’s resolution and said establishing principles is important to the Legislature and does not believe Mr. Stein’s resolution does this. She is concerned the resolution doesn't address enough of the media connections and believes it should say corporations should not have the same status as individuals.

RESULT:RECOMMENDED [3 TO 2]
MOVER:Peter Stein, Member
SECONDER:Pat Pryor, Member
AYES:Michael Lane, Pat Pryor, Peter Stein
NAYS:Dooley Kiefer, Pamela Mackesey
Jun 19, 2012 5:30 PM  Tompkins County Legislature Regular Meeting
RESULT:ADOPTED [10 TO 3]
MOVER:Dooley Kiefer, Member
SECONDER:Pat Pryor, Member
AYES:Will Burbank, Carol Chock, James Dennis, Dooley Kiefer, Michael Lane, Pamela Mackesey, Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, Pat Pryor, Martha Robertson, Peter Stein
NAYS:David McKenna, Frank Proto, Brian Robison
EXCUSED:Kathy Luz Herrera, Nathan Shinagawa