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Council supports reversing Citizens United ruling

ENCINITAS — The city joined a growing national movement to reign in campaign spending.

Council members unanimously passed a non-binding resolution last week to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling.

Due to the decision, corporations, unions and individuals can contribute freely to Super PACs and their affiliated 501 (c) 4s to influence elections.

Several public speakers warned the decision could open the door for additional outside spending in local campaigns.

According to city rules in place, an individual or organization can’t give more than $250 to a council candidate. But in the aftermath of Citizens United, contributors could potentially skirt the code by funneling money into Super PACs and 501 (c) 4s. Those groups can’t coordinate directly with candidates’ campaigns, but they could spend money on advertisements to support the candidates.

Diane Lane, representing the local chapter of Keep Money out of Politics, said the resolution is symbolic, yet it will send the message to national legislators that Citizens United should be overturned.

“The point is to flood congress with support for overturning Citizens United,” Lane said, noting 500 cities across the U.S. have passed the same resolution, including three other cities in the county.

Councilman Tony Kranz said he’s in favor of reversing Citizens United. However, he believes draft amendments to overturn it would give the government too much power to regulate political speech. Hence, it’s key that any amendment is written carefully, he added.

“For me, the key is getting congress to propose an amendment to the constitution that I could support,” Kranz said.

Encinitas’ $250 contribution limit was established in 2001.

Council also voted for city staff to bring back a report on chaining the city’s campaign contribution limit to the consumer price index, which measures price changes for a variety of consumer goods.

That way, council members said the contribution cap is tied to the standard of living, and the limit wouldn’t have to be reexamined on a regular basis.

Solana Beach and the city of San Diego, for instance, automatically make adjustments to contribution limits based on the consumer price index.

A city staff report cited six cities in the county that don’t cap contributions, while the remaining 12 cities limit contributions, ranging from a $100 cap to a $4,100 ceiling.

In a separate move, council members also voted 4-1 to increase the mayor’s salary by $100 a month beginning in 2016.

Currently, the mayor and councilmembers take home $1,186 a month.

Councilmembers agreed that being mayor comes with added responsibilities, justifying the raise.

Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar, the sole vote against the motion, said she would prefer that the mayor’s vehicle allowance is increased $100, rather than increase the salary by that amount.

In November, Encinitas voters will directly elect the mayor for the first time, doing away with a council majority selecting the position.


1 comment

Leon Page March 19, 2014 at 6:15 am

With all due respect, the Council appears to be in over its head on campaign finance matters. The Citizens United decision relates to independent expenditures by corporations, associations, and unions, not campaign contributions made directly to a candidate or officeholder. (I doubt that the Encinitas campaign finance ordinance purports to regulate independent expenditures by corporations, associations, or labor unions, so the Citizens United decision had no effect on Encinitas. Everything that a corporation or labor union can do today in Encinitas, such an entity could do before the Supreme Court decided Citizens United.

However, by taking a meaningless position on this First Amendment Supreme Court case, the Council creates a smokescreen to cover its direction to raise the campaign contribution limits in the city’s local campaign finance ordinance. Meaningless posturing, preening, and crafty, cynical self-interest, all wrapped up together in one tidy bow!

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