U.S. Rep. Kaptur, other elected officials discuss corporate political money, Lakewood ballot initiative

February 1, 2014
Joseph Clark

LAKEWOOD, Ohio—Elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, joined local activists to discuss the role of money in American elections. The meeting was an early step in an effort to pass a city ballot initiative protesting courts' identification of corporate political spending as protected speech. 

State Rep. Nickie Antonio, Lakewood At Large City Councilman Tom Bullock, and Kaptur, a Democrat from Toledo, spoke at a Saturday panel at Mahall's bowling alley. 

The forum, attended by about 60 people, was organized by the local affiliate of Move to Amend. Move to Amend is a national organization founded to counteract legal precedents set by Supreme Court cases such as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That case classified spending on political advocacy as constitutionally protected speech, and granted corporations the ability to spend unlimited sums on political activities so long as they were unaffiliated with candidates. 

Kaptur used grave rhetoric to describe what she characterized as the corrupting influence of growing political spending. She said that money in elections was corroding the public's trust in government.

"It's not like we're being invaded from an outside force, but there's something going on within. The American people are losing faith in the institutions of their republic, and that's dangerous," Kaptur said.

Kaptur said that running for a Congressional seat now costs millions of dollars, and that national leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties place a heavy emphasis on extensive fundraising.  She said that this emphasis leads to parties' favoring of candidates with strong money-raising skills over more seasoned legislators.

"This [emphasis] is eroding the seniority system. You may not like it, but mathematically you get better government," Kaptur said.

Kaptur said that because of moneyed influence, the country as "rotting from the inside." She suggested making the 2016 election a "speed bump" in the path of increasing political spending, calling on activists to press visiting presidential candidates for tighter spending regulations.  

"The republic is rotting from the inside, but they [presidential candidates] all come through here. We can use the 2016 election as a giant speed bump," Kaptur said.

Bullock said that even though determined actors would always find ways around restrictions on political spending, elected officials and citizens must act to curb money in elections. He argued that those who spend more in the political process exert disproportionate influence, undermining the principle of "one person, one vote."

"More money equals more say, and that means a rich citizen is worth more than a poor person, and that's not how it's supposed to be," Bullock said.

Antonio expressed concerns not only about corporate money, but also anonymous election spending, legislative redistricting by elected officials, and voter ID laws. She said she believed that all could reduce the effectiveness of individual citizens' voting power.

"These three things are happening in Ohio, and as a result it really does silence peoples' voices. It takes away their ability to have 'one person one vote,' to communicate with who represents them," Antonio said.

The local Move to Amend organization consists of five individuals who are attempting to submit a ballot measure Lakewood voters in the November 2014 election. The measure would require the mayor and city council to host a biannual forum to discuss the local, statewide, and national impact of spending by corporations, unions, and other composite political actors.

The measure would also require Lakewood's mayor to send a letter to state legislators, the city's U.S. House Representative, and both of Ohio's U.S. Senators. The letter would have to contain a statement to the effect that Lakewood citizens support a constitutional amendment declaring that only individual persons, not corporations, have rights, and that political spending is not speech or subject to the same protections as speech.

Move to Amend is currently collecting signatures; if they are able to collect the required amount, they will then submit their petitions and the language of their measure to city council. Council must then vote on whether or not to approve the initiative for the ballot.

This is the organization's second attempt to pass a Lakewood ballot issue. City Council did not approve Move to Amend's attempt at a similar ballot issue last November.

Bullock said he did not want to speak on behalf of other council members and attempt to explain why they rejected the issue. However, he said he supported Move to Amend's first effort, and their attempt for the Nov. 2014 election.

"These five citizens are asking their fellow citizens for change on an issue, and I think it is a worthy issue...I agree it's an important issue," Bullock said.

Greg Coleridge, a member of Move to Amend, said it was not their goal to eliminate money from the political process, but only to regulate it more strictly.

"We're not saying there shouldn't be money in elections. Of course there should be; but [as it is] now we can't regulate it," Coleridge said.

Katie Steinmuller, one of Lakewood's Move to Amend's organizers, said that she was confident that the experience the group accumulated last year will help make the next initiative successful.

"We feel more confident this time, because we have one under the belt. I feel we know what we have to do, and we feel we have more help this time," Steinmuller said.

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