At a packed City Council meeting that included remarks from a man in a top hat with fake money tucked in the pocket of his suit, Los Angeles lawmakers Tuesday called for more regulations on how much corporations can spend on political campaigns.
The vote in support of state and federal legislation that would end so-called "corporate personhood” is largely symbolic. But anti-corporate activist Mary Beth Fielder, who spoke in favor of the resolution, called it “a symbol that’s going to be heard around the world.”
The council resolution includes support for a constitutional amendment that would assert that corporations are not entitled to constitutional rights, and that spending money is not a form of free speech.
City Council President Eric Garcetti, the resolution's sponsor, said such actions are necessary because “big special interest money” is behind much of the gridlock in Washington.
He blamed a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission, which rolled back legal restrictions on corporate spending on the grounds that political speech by a business entity should receive the same 1st Amendment protections that people do. It allows corporations and other groups to spend unlimited money on behalf of candidates, although limits on how much they can contribute directly to candidates remain.“The flood of money since Citizens United is literally drowning out our voices,” said Garcetti, who is running for mayor in 2013. “If we’re going to be moving forward in this country, we need less special interest money in the political process.”
Councilman Richard Alarcon, who also supported the resolution, said corporations are “trying to take over every aspect of our lives.”
“Corporations are at the wheel of America,” Alarcon said. “And they are driving us to destruction.”
Corporations, of course, are frequent contributors in Los Angeles elections, and each of the council members who spoke in favor of the resolution have been the beneficiaries of such spending. Since 2007, for example, Alarcon has received nearly $5,000 in campaign donations from three corporations and their political action committees: Clear Channel, Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures.
Around 100 people showed up to support the resolution, including members of Occupy L.A. There was only one dissenter, a man dressed in jest like the mogul from Monopoly. He was there to represent the wealthy, he said, before pleading with the council: "Please don't vote for this."