Back in July, St. Petersburg Council member Darden Rice proposed an ordinance that would cap donations to political action committees that use money to influence local elections.
Her fellow council members voted 6-1 to send her proposal to a committee of the whole for consideration. If it passes that group, it could come back before the city council for a formal vote.
Rice’s proposal has gained steam with local activists and, now, on the eve of Thursday’s committee meeting, a group headed by the League of Women Voters is doing its best to get folks to the meeting to encourage the council to eventually pass the proposal.
“The ordinance will place the city at the forefront of the national movement to reclaim American democracy,” a League email says.
The email adds, “Please join us in this EPIC fight. … We need your support for a vote of YES. Attend these events, get educated, talk about it, and show your support.”
The email directs readers to a website, defendourdemocracy.org, that explains who is behind the ordinance and why:
“American Promise-Tampa Bay, League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area, Free Speech for People, the Leif Nissen Foundation, and citizens are working with city council members to pass an ordinance to protect the community from ‘dark money’ political influence and assure the rights of ‘we the people’ in our elections.”
Rice’s proposal is directed at so-called super PACs, political action committees allowed to raise an unlimited amount of money from corporations, unions, individuals, and associations to influence the outcome of elections.
They arose after the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case of Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, which ruled limits on corporate and union spending to influence elections were unconstitutional. Super PACs have come under fire in recent years for the amount of money they throw into elections.
Rice has said she has two goals: Cap donations made by corporations and other wealthy contributors to super PACs and require corporations that donate to the super PACs to certify that they are not foreign companies.
Even though the ordinance would apply only to St. Petersburg city elections, it could stand as a direct challenge to the Citizens United case. Should that happen, St. Petersburg could potentially change the way elections are financed across the U.S.
“If St. Pete passes this ordinance and wins a legal challenge (should one occur), this could be the end of super PACs and may lay the groundwork for the eventual defeat of Citizens United,” the Defend Our Democracy website says.
The League’s email notes there are three events Thursday that relate to the issue of Citizens United and to Super PACs:
Taking on Citizens United: Restoring our Democracy
Constitutional Expert Panel Discussion, Noon to 1 p.m.
Stetson Law School Grand Hall, 1401 61st St. S. in Gulfport
Ellen Weintraub — Commissioner, Federal Election Commission
Al Alschuler — Professor Emeritus, University of Chicago Law School
Scott Greytak — Counsel, Free Speech for People
Darden Rice — St. Petersburg City Council Member
Moderated by Professor Joseph Morrissey, Stetson University College of Law
St. Petersburg City Council Committee of the Whole
St. Petersburg City Hall from 2-4 p.m., 175 Fifth St. N.
Citizens United: Dangerous Consequences for Our Democracy: An FEC Commissioner Speaks Out
Temple Beth El from 7:30-9 p.m., 400 Pasadena Ave. S. in St. Petersburg
Q/A session and dessert reception will follow the lecture