Evanston first Illinois city to take stand against Citizens United

Manuel Rapada

With a unanimous council vote Monday, Evanston became the first Illinois municipality to pass a resolution supporting a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allows corporations to spend unlimited funds on political campaigns.

The city’s resolution explicitly states its support for all such constitutional amendments introduced in Congress, including the one co-sponsored by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “Evanston’s been a leader in a number of issues over the years, and I’m delighted that Evanston is a leader again on this one,” said Evanston resident Tom McAuliffe, who brought the resolution to the council’s attention through his alderman, Mark Tendam (6th).

With the resolution, Evanston joined other municipalities and states that have passed similar resolutions addressing the 2010 decision on the constitutional rights of corporations. According to a map from the Resolutions Week Coalition, citizens in other cities statewide, including Chicago, Elmhurst and Naperville, are advocating for their city councils to also adopt such resolutions. McAuliffe, a 6th Ward resident, expressed “extreme disappointment” with the Court’s ruling, which he said overturned a century of campaign regulation legislation.

Encouraging cities and states to pass resolutions is the most meaningful way to raise awareness about Citizens United because it makes the issue visible to large numbers of people quickly, McAuliffe said.

McAuliffe brought the idea to Tendam (6th) about three months ago. In that time, however, McAuliffe’s draft resolution has been revised with input from aldermen and citizen opinion. In an interview before Monday’s meeting, Rules Committee chair Ald. Jane Grover (7th) said she, Tendam and McAuliffe revised the draft to lessen hyperbole language and make the resolution more specific and straightforward.

The revised resolution was unanimously approved at the May 7 meeting of the Rules Committee, which consists of all nine aldermen and Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl.

During citizen comment Monday, resident Jeff Smith recommended striking portions of the resolution suggesting the Constitution only applies to natural persons. He said without his suggested revisions, the resolution would imply, for instance, that the Second Baptist Church does not enjoy freedom of religion. The council removed references to natural persons and “artificial entities” in the final resolution.

Though some specific text was modified, McAuliffe said the fundamental message of the resolution remained unchanged.

“The exact wording isn’t as important right now as making sure that essential elements are in there and people become more aware of the issue,” he said.

McAuliffe said he expects to increase involvement with organizations that seek to overturn Citizens United, such as Move to Amend, and to encourage state legislators to pass a state-level resolution.

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