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February 28. 2014 8:02PM

Bedford residents won’t get to vote on Citizens United petition

BEDFORD — A petition article protesting the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision on Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission will not be on Bedford’s March ballot.

The petitioned initiative will be on some town warrants in March, but will be delayed until next year in Bedford because of a time limit in posting a public hearing on the matter.

The Supreme Court decision allows unlimited corporate and union money into elections.

“Since that decision was made, it has made a dramatic effect on the nature of campaign spending, and the amount of money on campaign spending by the people and corporations who are able to affect elections,” said resident Jerry Hanauer, one of the petitioners.

At a Feb. 26 public hearing, the Town Council had to decide whether to accept the petition and spend money on a separate ballot, or reject or amend the petition. After an explanation on the initiative by Hanauer and resident Bob Jones, the council voted to approve the petition for the March 2015 ballot. If the council decided to purchase additional ballots, it would have cost the town $1,000 because the March 11 ballots have already been printed. The deadline for a public hearing was Feb. 12.

Hanauer said the intent was not to cost the town money, and some petitioners had discussed raising money themselves to pay for the additional ballots.

“We felt that was almost hypercritical because here we are proposing a change in election behavior that would prevent business money from affecting the results of an election,” Hanauer said.

Campaign spending

The initiative seeks a town vote on a nationwide, grassroots movement that calls on Congress to amend the Constitution to guarantee the right of elected representatives and the American people to safeguard fair elections by regulating political spending, and clarifies that constitutional rights were established for people, not corporations, labor unions and special interest groups.

In 2008, about $300 million was spent by non-party, non-committee groups, and in 2012 spending amounted to about $1 billion, Hanauer said.

“In 2014, there has been as much spent on the congressional midterm election (as) that in all of 2006, and we’re only in February,” he said.

He said social welfare groups can spend money on campaigns without disclosing donors, and corporations can spend election money without notifying shareholders.

“The negative effects we’ve seen in our society is the deterioration of civility in our political dialogue. It weakens the nature of the dialogue,” he said.

Jones said the country-wide initiative would need a two-thirds vote to pass.

“We see the Supreme Court moving more and more in this direction, and the Citizens United case is just the beginning of a process. They took a very narrow judicial hearing and applied a broad brush of change, actually revising previous decisions that were only four years old,” said Jones.

The Bedford initiative, which had been signed by 89 people, was received by Town Clerk Lori Radke on Feb. 3. The next day, the Supervisors of the Checklist verified 71 signatures, and the petition was certified by Radke. According to town charter, initiative petitions certified by the town clerk must be submitted to the Town Council.

“Unfortunately, there is not enough time to post a public hearing before the Feb. 12 public hearing,” she said.

The Town Council also had the option of not accepting the petition, which would have given the residents 30 days to garner 750 signatures, or 5 percent of voters in the previous regular election. The council would then be required to hold a special election, which can be held at town offices and hand counted instead of using ballot machines.

The councilors seemed in favor of the initiative because it gives people a voice, but they questioned spending $1,000 or more on additional ballots and a special election.

If the council had rejected the petition, it would have prevented the group from bringing it to the Town Council before next March, and it wouldn’t go on the ballot until the March 2016 election.

sclark@newstote.com


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