ABOUT TOWN: Stoughton Selectmen Support Removing Corporate Money from Elections

Welcome to "About Town with Mark Snyder," a column that will keep you up to the minute with what's what, who's who and what's going on around town. If you see or hear something we could use here, let us know by sending an e-mail to pmpco@aol.com.


The Stoughton Board of Selectmen voted 4-1 on Tuesday, July 10, to endorse a Moveon.org petition, presented by Steve Wilkinson of the Stoughton Democratic Town Committee, to overturn the Citizens United decision of the United States Supreme Court.

Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 50 (2010), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions.

The nonprofit corporation Citizens United wanted to air a film critical of then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and to advertise the film during television broadcasts in apparent violation of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (commonly known as the McCain–Feingold Act or "BCRA").

In a tight 5–4 decision, the Court held that portions of BCRA violated the First Amendment. Some contend that this decision just invites a money war by companies to control elections.

But, the Supreme Court makes decisions when it comes to law, not right-wing or left-wing groups.

Would the Board of Selectmen support the overturning of the Obamacare decision by the Supreme Court if proposed by the Tea Party?


I couldn't believe that Cynthia Walsh, John Stagnone, Bob O'Regan (an attorney), and John Anzivino would be in lock step with Moveon.org. The only Selectman to vote against it was Steve Anastos. Congratulations to him for voting not to support the overturning of the Supreme Court.  

Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show, "praised" MoveOn for "10 years of making even people who agree with them cringe." They claim 9 million members, and support "progressive Democratic candidates."

I thought maybe our Board should concentrate on STOUGHTON issues, and not national elections. We have enough concerns right here. But, after talking with Board members, I can even understand where they're at.  

Board Chairman John Stagnone tells About Town: "It was a request from a resident. The resident made the case and the Board supported it. The petitioner provided links to information, as well as other towns that had supported it."

When asked why the Board was getting involved in national campaigns, by what some would call a left-wing organization, Stagnone responded, "Other towns have done it. We're not supporting moveon.org, but a petition. We'll consider any citizen petitions."  

Board member Bob O'Regan, who is an attorney, said, "The vote wasn't to support a radical left movement. It was a petition to correct a Supreme Court decision. If you're a local government, depending on the State and Federal government to function well, then elections need to be fair and open. That's not done when special interest groups support Super Pacs. I supported the proposed legislative action to correct the defect that the Supreme Court found in the law." 

O'Regan added, "The Supreme Court decided a particular law was not constitutional. Congress can fix that. The big question is, how do you prevent big dollars from special interest groups from perverting the voting process?"    

Finally, Selectman John Anzivino felt strongly about how big corporate money was affecting elections. 

He told me, "I don't believe that corporations should be able to put money into campaigns. They are NOT people. They have a lot more money to give than individuals. The majority of our Board agreed." 

As for the Moveon.org source of the petition, Anzivino said that, "If you associate it with that organization, some eyebrows may have been raised. That could be a surprise when people discover where it came from. But, I was supporting the idea of removing corporate money from the equation."

Selectman Steve Anastos, who was sole vote against it, told me he didn't even think it belonged on the agenda. 

"Why don't we focus on stuff that is way more important?," he said. "If we're going to discuss something of national significance and implications, why not the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan? It was formed under a bipartisan commission, with supporters on both sides of the aisle, as well as corporate support? Why don't we pass it and deal with our spiraling deficit?"     

Cynthia Walsh said simply that the petitioner was from Stoughton, and that she agreed with the petitioner.

"I don't agree with the Supreme Court that companies are people," Walsh said. "We should limit corporate donations, in the same way that individuals are limited on what they can give."



HAPPY BIRTHDAY TODAY: To Stoughton's Marcy Zuck, a Woodbridge, CT. native, who graduated from Roger Williams College. She plays a key role in making sure Stoughton's annual Party All Night Long post-graduation bash is a success.


HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY: To Jill Somers, a scientist at Novartis, and member of the Energy & Sustainability Committee; to Stoughton's Lynn Sousa Andrade of AMS Grinding. She is the daughter of former selectman Tony Sousa and his wife, Diane; to Stoughton Firefighter Buddy O'Neil; to Ellen Evangelista, a Hyde Park gal, who lives in Stoughton now. Her husband Bob is the President of Stoyac. They all celebrated Wednesday!


Laura July 13, 2012 at 10:46 AM
Michael, For this specific discussion, I am primarily concerned that our selectmen would feel the need to take a stance on a particular side of this issue with no input from townspeople. They were elected to town gov't - they did not campaign on a platform of national partisan issues (whether McCain Feingold, Obamacare, etc, whether it be "for all time" or not). Some of us may have voted differently in town elections if we knew their platforms on some of these other issues, and that they would deign to speak for all of us in an official town stance.
Laura July 13, 2012 at 10:53 AM
Michael, To answer your broader question, I actually have been deeply concerned about McCain/Feingold since its inception, and I am well aware of a number of organizations that have sought to have it repealed. I believe it muzzles all of us on both sides of the political spectrum. I have a segment of quotes from the oral arguments at the Supreme Court during Citizen's United (I can't post it, because Patch has a character limit - it's too long) To sum it up, the justices asked the lawyer arguing against Citizen's United whether he would consider Kindle downloads of political books in the 30-90 days prior to an election to be in violation. He said he believed that would constitute corporate speech and would violate the law. Mr. Horan, do you really want a constitutional amendment to support book-banning??
michael horan July 13, 2012 at 02:27 PM
Hi Laura-- I'd ordinarily agree that Select Board should avoid major issues, but electees are, willy nilly, often called upon to deal with matters about which we really don't kow how they stand. (Same with Town Meeting--we elect people about whom we know precisely nothing to represent us!). But to your other question--it's a valid question, and as something of a first amendment fanatic I would share your obviously studied and sincere concern. Justice Stevens dealt with this in arguing for a difference between "entities" (press/corporations) and "funding sources." (I read the entire transcript too--fascinating stuff) The language of all of the amendments I've seen is very strict: it aims at eliminating the notion of "corporate personhood." Until this was struck down, we never saw a chilling effect on book, news, or magazine publication. There are two different aspects to this decision. One is the ability of big money to skew elections--that's where your valid concern comes in. But the second is the ability of corporations (or unions, or individuals) to purchase access and influence on that level by making these obscene contributions. That's the bigger issue, and it's why the fallout, notably the" Speechnow vs FEC" decision, has me more distressed than the actual CU decision itself. I actually burst out laughing--grimly, to be sure--reading Justice Kennedy's opinion that this will not result in the risk or appearance of corruption. Really?
michael horan July 13, 2012 at 02:32 PM
(cnt'd) The amendment process does NOT solve the underlying issue, any more than McCain-Feingold, with it's countless loopholes, did. As wealth continues to flow upwards at an extraordinary rate (20% of Americans control 80% of the wealth)--and as no one is so naive as to believe that $ does not directly correlate to access and influence (I was appalled at Obama's MA fundraiser last week--$45,000 for a sandwich with the President, but we all know what the long-term benefits of that 45k is--and I was no happier with Senator Brown's pricey luncheon at a local estate here in Stoughton last year)--we are fast becoming what Greg Palast calls "the best democracy money can buy." A strictly-worded amendment is, at least, a first step. (I got cut off too. Patch should double the character allowance. And you should start your own blog on here. Think I'd enjoy it. And everyone should attend at many Select Board meetings as they can! After all, at our last TM, we approved a measure "requiring selectmen to provide for a 15-minute period of public comment at all regular meetings."). (I look forward to any responses, but will be out of town and unplugged for a few days).
Michael Wallace July 31, 2012 at 02:52 PM
The Solicitor General was incorrect in stating that the Government could ban books, they could only regulate electioneering that was broadcast. You have a choice with the book, you have to go to the library/bookstore and actively seek out that book. Campaign Commercials come on without any affirmative action by the viewer. Books were never allowed to be regulated, everyone knows the history of pamphleteer's on the American Revolution and that was never in question. The Solicitor General did not know his stuff that day and if you read the transcripts was off on a few things.


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