It took Evanston aldermen just a few minutes at a special meeting Thursday night to place an advisory referendum on the November ballot asking voters whether they favor a constitutional amendment to limit corporate spending on election campaigns.

The referendum is a response to the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, in which the court threw out campaign spending limitson the theory that the First Amendment guarantees speech rights to corporations as well as individuals and that spending money on advocacy for an issue is a protected form of speech.

By City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz’s count, the special session lasted just 11 minutes.

That was about twice as long as Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, had predicted, in responding to complaints from some residents about aldermen “wasting time” on the national issue.

The meeting was held in the unusual venue of the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center because that’s where Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, had already scheduled her ward meeting for later in the evening.

The aldermen faced a deadline of next Monday for getting the referendum question on the ballot, but nobody raised the issue of holding the referendum until too late to put it on the agenda for last Monday’s meeting, the last regularly-scheduled session before the council’s traditional August recess.

Two residents raised questions about why the issue was being considered for the ballot, Bobkiewicz says, but no one advocated for or against the measure itself during the meeting.

The vote, among the six aldermen present for the meeting was unanimous in favor of holding the referendum. Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and aldermen Judy Fiske, 1st Ward; Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, and Don Wilson, 4th Ward, were absent from he meeting.

The aldermen last spring unanimously endorsed such a constitutional amendment which has also won the backing of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and other prominent Democrats.

Referendums on the issue will also be on the ballot this fall in places ranging from Northfield Township to the state of Montana.

The referendum question will ask:

“Shall the U.S. Congress pass a bill, to be duly ratified by three-fourths (¾) of the states, adopting an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, empowering the federal government and the states to regulate and limit political contributions from corporations?”


Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. City Operations are a mess while the council plays

    The council and Mayor continue to show little real interest in running the city, this newest item is just part of a long list of their lack of real concern for issues that have any real value for citizens in this community.

    The real problem is the city operations are a mess, Wally may claim he has a balanced budget this year but under the surface, there is a mess.   It appears to me several of the major department are screwed up.  The engineering group that manages project, has lost the last two managers since Wally has been here.

    At the same time, when they present the budget they show they had only spent 3.5 million of a 40 million capital budget by 7 months into their fiscal year. 

    Wally does not really understand capital projects and it shows, he has the head of the department reporting into the Director of Streets and Sanation.  That is the same individual that was in charge when the messed up the yard waste stickers by 1.4 million, but beyond that Wally has a professional engineer reporting to a garbage collector, it was interesting at the council when the aldermen asked a basic question about the cost of a road replacement, the trash collector had no clue.  Ofcourse the people that actual our picking up the trash have a real function, the dircector of the department may not. 

    It appears to me the reverse should be occuring, eliminate the director postion in streets and sanation and pay the extra money to get a professional engineer to manage both. Ofcourse Wally recently paid for a compensation study, that is when he is going to be holding raises at 2% to meet his budget, another joke.

    Alderman Rainey keeps saying look around town at all the projects going on, we can't be going bankrupt.  I been looking and I don't see many city public work projects going on for the 40 million dollars. Ofcourse Alderman Rainey show her real reason for the statement at the middle year budget review she was asking for use of the extra permit fee money, please NO more Wine and Cheese Bars!


  2. Referendum—Nero would be proud

    The Council has again 'fiddled while Rome [Evanston] burned' and spent its time 're-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.' 

    Certainly they have better things to do with their time like dig holes and fill them back-up like FDR proposed for those without jobs or other skils.

    More importantly the taxpayers deserve better.

  3. Just silly…

    Ald. Rainey's assertion that it will only take several minutes of time is nonsense.  Aldermen, theoretically, had to review and think about the proposal.  They had to respond to constiuent and media inquiries about this — and they will probably have to respond to more inquiries up to the the election.  Staff had to research, write, submit, etc. the referendum question… write and post and agenda for a special meeting, and set-up a whole special meeting.  Staff will also likely get questions up until Election Day too.  All of this costs time, money, and energy — which can be redirected toward more important, relevant municipal issues. Very disappointing of the City Council.

    1. Did legal counsel review the document as well?

      If so, I do not want that person representing me as an Evanston taxpayer any longer. The referendum relates to contributions, but the issue in Citizens United related to speech independent of any contribution to a candidate. Presumably, that is what everyone is so mad about, but that is not even addressed in the language in the referendum. Campaign contributions are already regulated, but the ability to critically think and parse these sorts of issues has long since passed in our ADD riddled, soundbite society.

  4. Why are they doing this?

    Why didn’t they add unions next to corporations in this referendum? Oh, I forgot that unions are a major funding source for the democratic party and the Evanston city council has shown, time and time again, that they are an arm of the democratic party of evanston.

    Shame on the council, the mayor, and the city manager. They may not be the leading candidates but they, once again, have shown that they are a product of the most corrupt state and county of these United States. That is too bad because I believe that there are some people on the council that do not know what they are doing and are led, by others, by the ring in their noses.

    Also, any costs associated with this referendum, should come from their pockets.

    1. Agreed.

      They should have added unions. I know someone in a union at AT&T, and he says that no matter what the members vote, the leaders go ahead and do their own thing anyway. I think that's pretty typical. That is not representation, and their monetary support should not be considered free speech. City Council, please add unions!

  5. Not that we already knew

    Not that we already knew that everyone of these Aldermen are bias individuals sent to legislate on behalf of the DPOE and the Democratic Party.  I am sure they all have Obama bumper stickers on their cars and Obama yard signs awaiting to see the light of day prior to the general election. 

    Who is kidding who?

    And, who do they really represent?  A party and an ideology, or the citizens of Evanston?

    How on earth does this ridiculous referendum benefit the  citizens of Evanston?  Other than a little chest pounding with a healthy prod from the DPOE, Durbin, Jan, etc.

    Sure, we can say hey – we have a referendum like Northfield, Montana, ya da, ya da, etc.  But we can also say hey, we also have a fiscal crisis like California, Stockton, San Bernardino, Mammoth Lakes, Detroit, etc.

    Like the prior poster mentioned, just another example of the chronyism and an incestous political circle that resides not only here, but in Cook County, the State, etc.  And just how HEALTHY is our city?  Our county?  Our state?  Not very.  All you have to do is look at the leadership in all three and ponder, how on earth did we get here?

    Can we please focus our efforts on Evanston's economic plight and budget crisis?  How about bringing businesses back to our shuddered downtown corridor, unemployment, crime, our schools?

    This is why everyone has to take a real look at who you support, and more importantly, in who's best interest do these elected political officials represent?  Is it the citizen, or is it the party? 

    Or do the blinders exist in such a political incestous city dominated by the left, that no one can really see the forest thru the treas and the trajectory this city, county, state (and frankly country) is on. 

    Oh yea, change is coming.  Outside of Evanston, people get it.  Inside Evanston, business as usual.  People are pissed, and hurting nationwide.  A referendum like this in Evanston is nothing but a ideological slap in the face amidst so many other serious issues afflicting Evanston.

  6. Costs?

    What are the costs for the referendum ?  Preparation, filing, labor for all parts, Council time, time and costs for hearings if citizens demand it ?  What will be the legal costs if this ballot or expenditures are challenged ?

    Will all city employees be prohibited from campaigning pro or con ?

    Once again the Council does not understand time and money are free.

    They don't seem to understand that the Courts ruled on this.  If Congress did disagree and thought they could pass a bill that would pass and not violate the Consitution or the Courts decision  they would have done so.

    Any effort to change the Consitution would of course take year and millions.  I assume the Council [who is suppose to have at least one lawyer on it] and the city lawyers [again paying more lawyers to do analysis and defend the Council] should understand this.  Or do they expect Obama to issue another 'order' and forget the Court and Congress ?

  7. a great picture of the city council

    Your picture of the city council in informal session is great – they are all smiling and look happy to be there. They have a thankless, very time consuming job.

    I suspect that, were it put to a vote, constituents would agree with this move for a referendum – the public is outraged at Citizens United because it gives a green light for wealth to have an even greater influence on our elections. We see the results at this moment when all records for political contributions by large donors are being broken. The referendum will allow the public to express itself.

    Note these facts about first term congressmen becoming beholden to big money:

    In 2010, political action committees of businesses that lobby gave the then-challengers a total of $14.89 million. Since then, they have upped their contributions to the first terms by nearly 100 percent, donating more than $26.66 million so far this cycle.

    Leadership PACs—political action committees associated with high-ranking present or former members of Congress—have propped up some of the (first term) candidates to the tune of $9.59 million.

    Outside groups—super PACs, nonprofits, labor groups and party committees—have spent $1.78 million so far on races where these 89 incumbents are running.

    Read the full story.


    1. Real influence, unions

      From 1989 to the start of 2012, 13 of the top 20 political contributers have been unions plus the trial lawyers association to make up the top 14 of 20 givers.

      The unions and trial lawyers donated a total of $478,262,751.00 of which well over 90% went strictly and only to democrats.

      The remaining top 6 of twenty, which includes the bankers association, gave a total of $185,112,268.00. 

      The split there averaged about 60% republican to 40% democrat.  The unions doubled the amount of money spent and concentrated that only to democrats.  It seems pretty obvious where the real political purchasing of influence lies.

    2. Referendum is bone-headed

      With all the troubles that ails our fair city, our aldermen decide to spend time and money to put forth a non-binding referendum that suggests politicians and bureaucrats should be able to decide what voters can and can not read, see or know before an election.

      The United Citizens case started when the FEC said a film producer could not sell a movie about Hillary Clinton on pay-per-view weeks before an election.  The U.S. solicitor general added that the law gave them the power to ban books and political pamphlets. These federal bureaucrats believed they were protecting voters from this film. The next logical step in this arbritary censorship process would be book burning.

      I didn't see Democrats get all huffy and puffy about commercials advertising Michael Moore's movie, "Fahrenheit 41" that was critical of Bush's foreign policy before an election.

      Should there be limits on how much money media corporations spend covering a political race? If not, wouldn't the handful of large media corporations have an unfair advantage influencing races? We all know the bias from Fox News and MSNBC. Right?

      There are many other ways to reform our campaign finance system without banning movies, books and pamphlets – "require full disclosure, limit PAC spending to individual spending limits, disallow registered lobbyists to donate or to fundraise for candidates, require 48-hour or real time reporting, reform the 501(c)4 system, ban Super PACs if they are not truly independent of the candidate, and impose criminal penalties on anyone who violates campaign finance laws (that means real jail time)."

      A constitutional amendment is a disengenous longshot

      I prefer an easier solution – unlimited donations. This allows candidates to have total control of their message. The voters then get to decide which message they like. It has worked relatively well for the first 200 years of our nation.

      Notice how this referendum excludes unions. Hmm, I wonder why?

      1. You do know the Citizens

        You do know the Citizens United effects local government as well which includes City Council races.

        They don't have the power to ban books, they had the power to ban a book that was an electioneering cause that was published within 30 days of a primary and 60 of a general election and that was paid for using the corporations general treasury, not its PAC which they would be allowed to do. (If I am a shareholder of a corporation, aka an owner, I do not approve of them spending general treasury funds to advance a political belief, but I get no say in whether they do it or not) It is misleading to just say they could ban books without adding all that.

        They couldn't put the movie on on-demand because it was expressly advocating for the election or defeat of a candidate within the given time frame, and it wasn't much of a movie but an attack piece against Hillary. The case should have been narrowly decided and allowed Citizens United to air the movie on On-Demand. (Obviously by the time the ruling came down it wouldn't have mattered)

        The media should be influencing an election, thats the purpose of the free press. The problem is these days, the media caters to ratings which isn't anywhere near the same thing as going for the truth. They shouldn't be concerned with right or left just the facts which allow the people to make an informed decision.

        So you propose to solve the problem of big money influencing elections by allowing unlimited donations? You do not see where that could give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption? So George Soros gives Obama $20 million dollars, Obama no longer needs to cater to small donors (aka the majority of the Country) he now only worries about his large donors. Now he gets elected and some legislation comes up that may effect George Soros, is Obama going to vote against the guy that paid for his campaign? Is Romney going to go to war with Iran because Sheldon Anderson wants him to? I don't know, but if he does, it will certainly give rise to speculation that he did it for Anderson which is the same as saying it gives rise to the apperance of corruption. The thing is, this is what is already happening, allowing unlimited capaign contributions would be ten times worse than what Citizens United did in allowing unlimited independent expenditures from Corporations general treasury funds and individuals.

    3. Big Money?



      You left a small detail out. What about the money (from dues, without any choice by members) and the footpower that unions provide. You seem to point a finger at corporate money primarily.

      Recall that our current POTUS elected to use outside funding and McCain did not.

      Wealth and power come in many forms.


  8. “Shall the U.S. Congress pass

    "Shall the U.S. Congress pass a bill, to be duly ratified by three-fourths (¾) of the states, adopting an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, empowering the federal government and the states to regulate and limit political contributions from corporations?"

    So, corporations would not be permitted to make political contributions.  But what about labor unions?



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