BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Los Alamos County Councilor Pete Sheehey will introduce a resolution at Tuesday’s virtual County Council meeting calling on Congress to enact a campaign finance regulation amendment. The draft resolution urges Congress to clarify that the rights protected under the Constitution “are rights of human beings and not the rights of artificial entities; that governments may and should regulate campaign contributions and expenditures to protect the people from corruption and undue influence in elections”.
The final draft may be read here:
Sheehey told the Los Alamos Reporter Wednesday that the country just got through with an election where an estimated $14 billion was spent.
“A pretty significant percentage of that comes from groups that either don’t report where that money comes from at all, or they only partially report it. Some of these dark money groups give contributions to super political action committees (PACs) that have some regulations about reporting but they say comes from such and such a group but you don’t know where that money came from,” he said.
Sheehey said most people whatever party they belong to feel that everyone has a right to contribute and to participate in campaigns.
“But the idea is that a corporation with sometimes virtually unlimited cash access has the same or greater rights than you and me. In fact, if we want to contribute to a local campaign, there are reasonable odds that in each election you can only contribute so much. I think the federal limit is only $2,700 per election and that’s a lot. Most Americans can’t afford to contribute that, and these corporations with these dark money set ups and super PACs know that,” he said.
Sheehey said he has been actively seeking campaign finance reform since the supreme court Citizens United v. FEC ruling in 2010 which granted corporations First Amendment rights, ruling that corporate political spending was free speech. The court maintained that corporations should have those rights because they are just assemblies of people. Many people and groups throughout the country, including American Promise (americanpromise.net/who-we-are/about-american-promise/) believe an amendment is needed again to establish that constitutional rights are for people, not corporations. If a constitutional amendment was passed, it would give Americans the ability to pass laws through the political process to decide what corporations could or could not do.
“We all have the right to free speech as people but the question of corporations is another one. We have other rights under the Constitution such as equal protection under the law. You’re telling me when a corporation can contribute unlimited amounts to an election and I’m limited to a fixed amount assuming I can even afford to put that much in – that’s not equal protection. I’m not getting an equal right to this election,” Sheehey said. “We could argue the constitutionality of it but with the present supreme court but for the foreseeable future it’s not going to change. That’s why many people feel that we’re going to have to go the route of a constitutional amendment.”
Sheehey agrees that a constitutional amendment is not easily accomplished but that the majority of Americans feel it’s reasonable to have campaign finance regulations.
“The present situation is not fair and it’s not good for democracy,” he said.
Since the 2010 decision, Sheehey has participated in efforts at the state legislature to pass resolutions recommending a constitutional amendment including a senate memorial passed in 2012 and sent to the congressional delegation. The memorlal noted that the 2010 supreme court decision overturned many of the provisions of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act by allowing corporate spending in elections which had been previously barred and allowed excessive power to corporate interests enabling them to overwhelm the voices of individual citizens.
Rebecca Shankland, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Los Alamos told the Reporter that campaign finance reform has been a central issue for the League for many years. The League argues that reducing the influence of big money in politics makes elections fairer and that voters have the right to know who is raising money for which political candidates, how much money they are raising and how that money is being spent. The League’s national website notes that elections should be free from corruption and undue influence and should work so that everyday Americans can run for office, even if they aren’t well connected to wealthy special interests.
Public comment on the proposed resolution may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.