F.C. Council Goes on Record for Reversal of ‘Citizens United’ Rule

The Falls Church City Council this Monday adopted a resolution declaring its position “that corporations should not receive the same legal rights as natural persons, that money is not speech, and that political expenditures can be regulated.”

By so doing, the Council joined a reported thousands of other jurisdictions across the U.S. calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to reverse the infamous U.S. Supreme Court “Citizens United” decision that allows unlimited and anonymous financial contributions to political campaigns.

The City Council vote was 3-0-1 Monday, with both Mayor Nader Baroukh and Vice Mayor David Snyder recusing themselves because of perceived conflicts of interest. It left the gavel in the hands of Council member Johannah Barry. When the vote was taken, Phil Duncan, Ira Kaylin and Barry voted “yes,” and Councilman David Tarter, who said his law practice represents and assists in the creation of corporations, abstained (Councilman Ron Peppe was absent).

The recusals and absenses reducing the quorum of the Council to four, the measure was ruled “passed” by the three votes, according to acting city attorney J. Patrick Taves.

The measure was originally included in the City’s annual legislative package for delivery to its legislative representatives in Richmond, approved on Nov. 25, but was separated our for a stand alone vote at that time.

A staff report to the Council reported, “Members of the Northern Virginia Move to Amend, who reside in the City, have requested that the City Council adopt this resolution supporting a U.S. Constitutional amendment that would reverse the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and other related decisions of the federal courts, which have allowed unlimited corporate spending in federal and state elections. The citizens requesting this action view the corrupting influence of corporations and money in elections as a threat to good government, civic and civil discourse, and the people’s participation in local decision-making.”

The staff recommendation was for passage of the resolution.

In the “be it resolved” section of the resolution, it further states “that a constitutional amendment should make it clear (a) that corporations are not entitled to the constitutional protections or “rights” of natural persons, (b) that money is not speech,” (c) that regulating election-related spending is not the same as limiting political speech, and (d) that Congress and the states may place limits on election contributions and expenditures.

Standing up to speak on behalf of the adoption of the resolution Monday were Brian Siebel, Deborah Roth and Julie Ide. Ide reported that 45 signatures from Falls Church citizens had been secured on a petition supporting the measure. Other City residents active in the effort to secure passage of the resolution included Sean Barnett, Ayman Eldarwish, Robert Crowe and Peg Willingham.

Councilman Duncan thanked the citizens for “doggedly pursuing this for months,” adding that he’d been involved in the issue for many decades, going back to when he worked for the Congressional Quarterly in D.C. in the 1970s. He said that back then, in the wake of Watergate, the sentiment on campaign finance reform was quite the opposite from the form it has taken with the Citizens United decision.

“We need to take our democracy back,” Siebel told the Council. Roth said it was “misguided” for Council members to feel they needed to recuse themselves from voting on the matter. “There is no conflict of interest when it comes to a bad law,” she said.