Evanston aldermen have scheduled a special City Council meeting Thursday at which they’re expected to place an advisory referendum on the November election 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.

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 special council meeting Thursday will be held at 6 p.m. at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, 1655 Foster St. The deadline for placing referendum questions on the November ballot is next Monday.

Update 12:05 p.m.: The proposed wording of the referendum question, as posted to the city website late this morning, is:

“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. Not the council’s or city’s business

    If individual voters want to write to Congress that is their business but it is not the Council or city's business to be 'speaking for the voters.'  

    The Council and their staff have not shown that they understand business and have earned no creedence to propose referendums to Congress—which in itself does not seem to be doing very well or understand business.

    Few like the large contributions but the Consitution does mention free speech.

    Maybe a better way is for anyone to be able to contribute all they want but into a blind fund where no candidate, action committee or staff or supporter can know their name—thus preventing influence on the candidate or getting 'favors' in return.  If the donor states in any format that he made a contribution to the candidate, fund, etc. or these find out who made the donation, the money must be given back to the donor.

    If a loop-hole is found, impose civil or criminal penalties.

    1. a referendum is the voice of the people

      A referendum seeks the voice of the people, and is not the Council speaking for the voters.

  2. A Citizens United referendum is a waste of precious resources

    A referendum on the local level regarding a Supreme Court decision is meaningless and a waste of time and resources.

    We are in difficult and serious economic times and our aldermen think a voter referendum on a settled issue is worthwhile. I've got news for these politicians – the voters are engaged and angry and see through the political charades they are playing.

    Aldermen are sadly mistaken if they  think  a local referendum on the Citizens United ruling might energize Evanston voters to the Democratic cause. It is alienating and angering voters who each year pay higher taxes as their property values decline. 

    In case anyone was wondering about Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruled that GOVERNMENT can NOT ban the showing of a movie weeks before an election. That's what the whole case was about.

    Apparently our aldermen think it's OK to ban movies, maybe even books before an election, unless of course the movie represents their political views.

    It's kind of like the two aldermen this week who wanted to limit the number of bed and breakfasts someone could own in Evanston.

    Our local leaders are totally clueless.

  3. As usual, the City Council gets it wrong

    Political contributions are regulated and limited. The only thing Citizens United changed was to allow corporations to run their own campaign ads or donate to other entities that run campaign ads with which they agree. Call me a freedom loving American, but if the NAACP wants to run ads against guys like David Duke out of their general funds, fine, let them. If Planned Parenthood wants to run ads funded by their general funds against guys like Rick Santorum, fine, let them. If AARP wants to run ads against Paul Ryan, let them.

    1. Also for unions?

      Will the referendum also limit the campaign funds and actions of unions ?

      If corporations put pressure on employees [rare and mostly on very senior executives if at all] to contribute, what about unions that force employees to pay dues and then use those funds to support candidates—and as know frrom Chicago to campaign themselves for candidates—that the employees don't support. In fact it seems that is what the unions mainly exist for.  Supposedly the employee can have his "contributions" (!!!) used for another purpose [non-political if such a union cause even existed] or candidate but try to get through the paperwork and payback by the union and other employees.

      We should have moved to a Right-to-Work state long ago and ended this indentured servitude.

  4. Aldermen get back to your jobs!

    Once again the Evanston City Council and their staff is wasting their time and taxpayer money debating issues that don't concern them.

    We are in the middle of a huge budget shortfall, schools in crisis, pensions without funding and now we are going to have to endure city council members debating the Constitution.

    Please stop this madness and get back to your jobs : Deciding how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

  5. Stop wasting city resources

    "Evanston aldermen have scheduled a special City Council meeting Thursday at which they're expected to place an advisory referendum on the November election ballot asking voters whether they favor a constitutional amendment to limit corporate spending on election campaigns."

    This is what the subject of the meeting should be about.

    Evanston aldermen have scheduled a special City Council meeting Thursday at which they're expected to place an advisory referendum on the November election ballot asking voters whether they favor the immediate resignation of the city council, mayor, and city manager for wasting the money and time of the taxpayers.

    Get your heads back on your shoulders and do the job you were elected to do.


    And, I almost forgot, how much does it cost to add a referendum to the ballot. If it is more than zero you are wasting money.



  6. A better way.

    I generally support the Citizens United ruling based on the notion that government limiting speech is more dangerous than goofy political ads.

    That being said, I think if a group of citizens want this on the ballot, they should collect signatures and place it on the ballot themselves… but the City is dropping the ball wasting time, efforts, and money on such silliness that is far out of their purview.

  7. Let Us Now See Who the Real Liberals Are

      The article above indicates that the proponents of this referendum are attempting to respond to the Citizens United case, but the language of the referendum suggests that the proponents either have not read Citizens United or have another agenda.
      In Citizens United, the Supreme Court considered a law which criminalized certain political speech by non-natural persons such as for-profit and not-for-profit corporations and unions within a defined period of time before a primary election. The Court invalidated penalties for such activity.  At the same time, it sustained certain disclaimer and disclosure provisions of the law. The viewpoints of the justices are varied and expressed over five opinions stretching 183 pages of Supreme Court text.
       All of the robustness of the discussion in the Court over the history and importance of free speech in America is lost is the proposed referendum. Subtlety has been reduced to sound-bite. Perhaps that is to be expected of politicians for whom reason seems to be a rare commodity, but the proponents should at least be required to answer this fundamental question: What is the governmental interest that would be substantial enough to justify restricting the First Amendment rights of unions, corporations and other associations of citizens?
      Even if the proponents can answer that question, they still have to respond to two others.  Why is the referendum directed to corporations and not to all associations of all stripes? Why is it unrestricted as to time and scope (unlike the statute at issue in Citizens)?
      There are grounds for concern when any person spends a substantial amount of money on a political campaign and thereby exercises disproportionate influence, but surely the greater threat to vigorous political debate is when some seek to silence others, many others and forever in all circumstances. Enacting such an amendment would run counter to the historic trend of amending the constitution to expand participation in the political process. Fortunately, a constitutional amendment to restrict political speech is going nowhere in this, the next or any foreseeable Congress. The only thing that this discussion will illuminate is who the true liberals are, the ones who really believe in free and open discourse, and not just hypothetically but in the rough and tumble of an election season. Maybe that is not so bad, after all.

    1. Please research the facts

      I strongly encourage you to check out, and/or read "Republic, Lost" by Larry Lessig.  The latter neatly details exactly how "well anyone can spend money" does not equal free speech, and in fact the current political campaign system destroys free speech by allowing selected interests to drown-out all other voices through donations to candidates and through flat out protection-racket-style maneuvering.


      We cannot have free political speech when campaign donations are the only speech that gets listened to, which is the current situation.

      1. Drowned out?

        Please name me an issue where "selected interests" have been able to completely "drown out" all other voices.

        As you stated earlier, I also believe that the greatest threat to America isn't terrorism or a bad economy. 

        I think a bigger threat may be people who want to legally silence others, whether individuals, organized coalitions, fraternal orders, corporations, rich, poor, whatever, because those certain people believe they hold the higher truths and all others must live by the interpretations of what and who they believe should be allowed to have a voice.  Now that is truly scary.

        1. Well said

          I agree that any attempts to silence or abate speech is very dangersous and  scary.

          And Larry, you say: "We cannot have free political speech when campaign donations are the only speech that gets listened to, which is the current situation."

          What you are really saying is that since most Americans don't make the effort to study issues by reading newspapers, research, opinions, etc. and instead often get informaiton from 30 second tv commercials, the government should step in and limit certain types of speech to combat the silliness of these commercials.  I strongly disagree.  The citizenry needs to step up and engage in the democratic process by studying issues, communicating with elected officials, voting, etc.

  8. Surprised

    I am shocked that so many people are against this.  Corporate take over of elections is the number one threat to America today.  Not terrorism, not the economy, but our crippled and hogtied political system.  Not just at the national level, but state legislatures and even local cities, too.  A number of cities across the country have passed similar resolutions, and I am very happy to see Evanston putting one up for referendum.

    I for one fully intend to vote in favor of the referendum if it makes it on the ballot.  If I could make it to the council meeting, I would speak in favor of it. (Unfortunately I already have a scheduling conflict, and leave town for a business trip the next day.)

    The real solution is public financing of elections.  Forget big money donors.  Politicians use them because they need them to run a campaign.  Give candidates a better, more egalitarian, more fair option, and let the honest politicians avoid being bought.

    As for the Anonymous poster above asking about Unions, in many states Unions are already heavily crippled in terms of what they can do politically.  Corporations are not, but unions have had new rules added to them recently that makes it very difficult for them to buy politicians the way corporations can.  It's already an unlevel playing field.

    1. Corporate Sponsors of Candidates

      Spot on Larry,

      This should be a local grass roots issue that gets on a national referendum. 

      Public financing of qualified candidates who can serve for a limited amount of time and be forbidden to work as lobbyists when done… No more career politicians!

      Our country is going to hell in a handbasket because of special interests who trump the citizens who interests might otherwise be well represented… by people who don't have to raise thousands of dollars every day to stay in office.

      Thank you.

      Yours sincerely, Brian G. Becharas


      1. Some questions

        Would you propose that public financing would then prevent any natural person, union, corporation or other entity from advocating on behalf of a candidate or against a candidate?

        For instance, if a political party got $500 million to run its presidential campaign, would all ads for the candidate of that party have to run through that $500 million or could third parties advertise and advocate on behalf of that candidate as well?

        It seems to me that public funding does nothing to address the Citizens United issue, which others have articulated in this thread, namely that the government can't contravene the First Amendment with respect to speech, advertisements, movies, etc. distributed by third parties prior to an election.

        Furthermore, do you think that public funding would increase choice or stifle it with respect to third parties? Would you propose that the Libertarian Party or Green Party should just be left off the ballot altogether because they presumably would not get funding in a world where the Rs and Ds attempted to grab a stranglehold on their hegemony over the electoral process through the control of the purse strings?

        1. Two sides to every issue?

          Agreed, the whole public funding thing is a fantasy.  

          Actually, I think Citizens United may actually expand debate and choices, especially at the primary level. 

          Look at the last republican primary, candidates held in for much longer than usual simply because the money was their to support their continued efforts.  The official party coronation didn't happen so quickly and was truly up in the air, leaders going back and forth, for quite some time. 

          Whatever your political affiliation that would apply to both parties in future primaries and that I believe to be a good thing completely at odds with the accusations being made against big money influence. 

          It may also be the only way to truly allow a third party to actually become serious contenders.  If some big money came to them they might actually have a real opportunity for relevance.  

    2. What’s your problem

      I don't think the question is whether you are for or against the Citizens United ruling. The question is whether the Evanston City Council should be taking an activist role on a national level. I gather that most people believe that they should be more concerned about Evanston’s many problems. Out of control spending is the same failed strategy that has driven a bad economy into a worse economy over the last 5 years.

      They should do the job they were elected to do and not thrust their personal believes into the political process.


    3. I’m surprised the City Council is wasting time on this


      Did you read the Citizens United case? It's essentially about free speech. The Supreme Court rightly ruled that govenment can not stop a corporation, a union, a non-profit group, George Soros or anyone from distributing a movie,a book, a pamphlet, an email etc. before ANY election.

      Romney on this issue was roasted in the media for saying corporations are people too.

      Consider that almost 90 percent of all government union campaign donations go to the Democratic party.

      Question – are unions people?

      What scares me is how politicans abuse their power by using their office to punish private citizens and companies who do things our elected officials politically oppose.

      Example – several Democratic mayors including Rahm Emanuel publicly warned the owner of Chick-fil-A not to open new stores in their cities because the owner believes marriage should be between a man and woman. Rahm said Chick-fil-A values are not Chicago's values. One of the Chicago franchise owners, a couple, publicly asked to meet with Rahm but were ignored by the partisan mayor.

      Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel broke off talks with the Chicago Cubs owners, the Ricketts family, because the elder Ricketts financed the movie, 2016, an unflattering portrayal of Obama. The movie is playing in numerous Chicagoland theatres, but not Evanston.

      If the Supreme Court had ruled the other way we might not be able to watch the movie, 2016.

  9. More of the Mayor’s personal agendas

    The Mayor has no fiscal leadership, so like the former governor, she pretends she is doing things for the public like openning up a health clinic, with federal dollars.   The former governor, kept on claiming he was a good guy because he create health programs for the needy. 

    I never heard of this issue prior to the last council meeting, but what I listened to was the typical incompentance and screw ups the council and Mayor have become know. That is this is a last minute deal, they were going to have a meeting at Fleetwood on this, now a council meeting, were is any community input or meetings?

    The Mayor is out of control, she is using her authority, for her personal agendas, like the health clinic, while the operations of the city of Evanston are screwed up.  There is a long list over the last few years of mistakes with our dollars, and misuse of taxpayers money here, this is just another example of this behavior.

    I reconize some of her supporters think she actually knows what she doing,but find out how she has help the special interests that her supporters favor.

    I had a good laugh two meetings ago a staff person, got her an award,  that is he filled out an award application for her, she stated that person would go far, as she hand him an award, what  a total joke!  When this person puts this on his resume, a future potential employer will laugh. 

    During the mid year budget review we just had, the Mayor sat there and did not ask any questions, ofcourse I asked a few during citizens comment, Wally had Marty answer them, ofcourse if you listen closely he did not answer them. 



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