OP-ED: Watertown Resident Urges Town Council to Support Reversing Citizens United Ruling

Aaron Hatley urges the Town Council to follow other Massachusetts Communities and pass a resolution asking for the campaign finance ruling to be changed.


To my fellow Watertown voters,

On Nov. 6, in Watertown Districts A, B, and C, just under 63 percent of us voted “Yes” on a non-binding ballot question that supported a constitutional amendment to reverse the effects of the infamous 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC. On Dec. 11, a group of concerned citizens (including your author) will ask the Watertown Town Council to consider a resolution urging our state and federal representatives to work toward that constitutional amendment to reinstate reasonable limits on outside funding in our elections, and to ensure that the strongest voices on election day are yours, and mine, and our fellow citizens’.
And we need your support.

Seventy-four Massachusetts cities and towns have already passed similar resolutions, including our neighbors in Boston, Newton, Arlington, Cambridge, Somerville, Brookline, Needham, and Natick. Hundreds of other towns around the country have taken similar steps, and many have also recently passed ballot questions as we did at the beginning of this month. But a Town Council resolution would be far from superfluous at this point; election funding is and will remain an important local issue, and we need to take every available opportunity to make
our voices heard. The Citizens United decision didn’t just apply to national elections. Voters in places like Durham, N.C., and Oklahoma City have already seen secretive and well-funded outside groups working to swing local elections to support favorable zoning decisions or development opportunities. A little bit of outside money can make a big difference on a local scale, and Citizens United created a dangerous opportunity for undisclosed political contributions to have a real impact in our neighborhoods.

Citizens United is a decision that affects all of us, in Watertown and around the country, regardless of our particular views or party affiliations. The Center for Responsive Politics estimates total spending in the 2012 election at an unprecedented $6 billion, including nearly $1 billion spent by outside organizations in support of both Republican and Democratic candidates. But this issue isn’t just bipartisan – it’s nonpartisan. A 2012 Associated Press poll showed that 81 percent of Republicans, 78 percent of independents, and 85 percent of Democrats want to
limit corporate, union, and outside spending. Protecting the basic ideals of our Republic – that as citizens our voices, and our votes, must be counted, and that your vote will count the same as mine – demands fair and reasonable oversight of the electoral process. That’s what we’ll be arguing for when we place a proposal in front of our neighbors on the Watertown Town Council on Dec. 11. Here, on our own Main Street, in our most direct venue for democracy, we’ll be adding our voices to a growing chorus calling for the preservation of open and transparent elections and for the curtailment of undisclosed and unlimited spending in those elections, through an amendment to the very Constitution that ensures our right to make these demands in the first place. We hope you’ll read more about this issue, that you’ll be in touch with your local, state, and federal representatives, and that you’ll consider coming by the meeting on Dec. 11. Above all, make sure your voice continues to be heard.


Aaron Hatley
Watertown Resident

barbara r December 05, 2012 at 10:24 PM
Thank you to those who are petitioning our Town Council. Yes, in our state, and so many others, people of all political stripes have taken a stand against the idea that corporations are people (they are not!) and that money is speech and should be freely spent/heard across the land (No!, but a perfect reason for elections to be publicly funded). This is a local issue because corporate donations are allowed to be secret at all levels and we have our closest ties to our Town Council and they directly speak for us. In this case, the Council should speak with us. Hope to see you next Tuesday, December 11 at Town Hall.
John DiMascio December 06, 2012 at 03:18 PM
Lets get the facts straight. This got on the Council Agenda by citizens petition because District D Councilor Kenneth Woodland was unable to get it on there by the usual means. He couldn't find two other Councilors to sponsor the agenda item for good reason. The Town Council is elected to address issues directly related to governing Watertown. Not one of them is a elected to debate the Constitution or Supreme Court decisions. Were they to actually vote on this matter, they'd all have a duty to first read both opinions (majority and minority) in their entirety on the Citizens United case. Then they would need to bring in real Constitutional experts from both sides to give them opinions on this issue at sub-committee level. Is this what these people are elected to do -- promote a partisan political agenda? This cuts both ways, a lot of people can petition the Council and force them to discuss anything the want. It's called abusing the platform to promote an agenda. The Council could literally be shut down. Perhaps someone might be interested in having the Council pass a resolution against Dairy Price Supports. Or maybe they should debate a resolution calling for an amendment repealing Marbury Vs Madison. Lets be serious folks. They proponents of this resolution are making a self-defeating argument. The Town already voted on this matter. It passed overwhelmingly. So why the redundancy? It's called abusing to forum to promote a partisan agenda!
Paul Short December 06, 2012 at 04:12 PM
Everyone else is working, trying to support a family and make ends meet. And these passionate radicals with no responsibility and lots of free time take up town resources with their foolishness. To my knowledge, Citizens United is a national and state issue, not a town issue. Taxes just went up while working people's wages are going down. The town council should not even give a single thought to the topic.
Jim Buba December 06, 2012 at 04:16 PM
To perfect the record then. In Massachusetts, we have a successful limit placed upon campaign donations and expenditures. The Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) is an effective legal limit upon these sums. Individuals, PACs and Corporations are specifically identified, yet it could do more. In fact, this is the perfect arena for the Citizens of the Commonwealth to flex their muscle guaranteed by the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The OCPF law(s) is(are) written to exact this nature of control over candidates for State office with the exception of the Executive Branch and exclusions for all of the Fedral offices such that the Federal Election Commission is otherwise empowered. At the state level then, OCPF could be easily modified to further restrict or prohibit campaign donations from outside any district. This is exactly what the proponents are attempting to do. Corporate donations are already prohibited in Massachusetts for all but the Executive Branch. In the spirit of cleaning one's own house before attempting to clean the garage, it would serve us better to consider this first. Better the Council pass a resolution that compliments OCPF to the degree it specifically restricts donations from outside the town for town office. Limiting, rather than prohibiting corporate donations would be more effective and reasonable, perhaps requiring a physical presence and then work with towns in the state senate districts to do the same.
John DiMascio December 06, 2012 at 10:46 PM
All good points Jim, but even what you've proposed is beyond the job description of a Town Councilor. Local campaign finance laws are written by the State Legislature. They need to be debated in that forum. The Town can't pass a local ordinance with respect to campaign finance, even for municipal elections. The MGL and State Constitution reserve that right for the legislature. No such authority exists in the Home Rule Charter that I know of. Moreover, passing resolutions that express opinions on matters these folks don't properly deliberate is just inane banter! It's a waste of time. The Councilor sponsoring this thing, or leading this fiasco, couldn't get support from his fellow councilors to put it on the agenda.
Tacitus December 07, 2012 at 01:47 AM
Plainly and obviously far beyond the powers of the Watertown (or any town's) Town Council. Leave pointless, empty-gesture resolutions on issues far outside the scope of local officials' responsibility to the good folks in Cambridge.
Sonny Beaches December 07, 2012 at 02:29 AM
Gad, for once I agree with John DiMascio. District D Councilor Kenneth Woodland is a twit who won office only because he ran unopposed for the vacant seat of John Lawn. Hopefully in the next election an adult will run in District D. It's time to send Kenny back to his playpen.
John DiMascio December 14, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Sonny, If you bothered to comment on the content and actually read content, you might find a whole lot more area of agreement. But you choose to make it about personalities and your dislike for certain people. Therefore you're arguments lack intellectual honesty and are based on whatever personal gripe you have against people. As for Mr. Woodland, you do the same thing here. Is there a need to call the Young Law Student with high political aspirations a "twit." You want to take a jab at his positions or his clear lack of qualifications or even the absolutely silly things he's said during Council and sub-Committee meetings he bothers to attend, then by all means do that. There are appropriate times to use metaphors and hyperbole to refer to politico. But they ought to relate to the positions they take or their worldview. There is no reason to call the guy "Twit." That's just an unecessary ad hominem.
Gary M December 14, 2012 at 10:02 PM
John, You just made this comment regarding Senator Kerry's potential appointment to Secretary of State: "Hanoi John should have been tried for treason a long time ago!" Please tell me what this comment accomplishes.... How do you reconcile what you just told Sonny to comments that you make? I'm not sure I understand the difference?
John DiMascio December 15, 2012 at 04:41 PM
Gary, You may have a point. My comment was Ad Hominem. However, my comment was based on actual history. John Kerry gave aid and comfort to the enemy during the Vietnam War by his very public actions and grossly politically motivated testimony before Congress. I didn't call the Senator a "Twit". I referred to matters of substance. There is a significant segment of the population that sees Kerry's actions actions as treasonous. Therefore they would view his appointment to a cabinet level post, especially Sec. of Defense or State as a travesty. I didn't simply make up the name Hanoi John... that's a name that has been out there for quite a while. And of course his actions in betraying his fellow brothers in arms to give aid to the Hanoi government, are well known. These were all public. Now others may view them differently. But I'm not accusing Kerry of anything new, nor am I accusing of him doing anything that wasn't out in open. These actions are legitimate matters for discussion when someone is being considered to either be the nations top diplomat or head of the defense department. Both of which are positions his name has been tossed around for. Now I'll admit that my remark, is "short hand" for all of the above. I'm assuming that people of my generation or older will recall history. So my remark was Ad Hominem and polemical. I'll grant you that. I am impugning Kerry's character. But it's based on public history.
John DiMascio December 15, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Sonny on the other hand will often bring up matters that aren't remotely germane. Furthermore, he simply invents theories that have no basis in reality about certain local public figures. He once accused members of the Republican Town Committee (including the Chair) of secretly supporting a Democrat. Now I happen to agree 100% with his assessment of Councilor Woodland. But calling him a twit doesn't really begin to describe the Councilor's lack of competence. I've followed Sonny's posts on various issues and found myself agreeing with the substance of his remarks. And I have no problem with polemics, sarcasm, hyperbole, and even an occasional Ad Hominem, if it actually has some basis in reality. For instance: Calling Barack Obama an illegal alien does NOT have any basis in reality. Even the "birthers" (of which I am NOT) don't go that far. Calling Barack Obama a Socialist, has a basis in reality. You might not agree with that assessment, but there is a body of policies out that can be argued on the subject. But returning to your point about my remark, I probably should have further explained it for the benefit of those who aren't aware or don't recall the history. So in that much, I erred. As a person who is follows history, I will often make the mistake of assuming others do as well.
John DiMascio December 15, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Sorry Bidersfull.... not quite the right analogy or metaphor. There is a significant difference.
John DiMascio December 15, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Moreover, If and when I make a remark that is personal in nature, I put my own name to it. Sonny and other, choose to hide behind screen names. It's one thing to use a screen name to blog. It's another to make personal and often baseless attacks and be a total coward about it.
John DiMascio December 15, 2012 at 07:42 PM
No: Calling someone a twit is a remark about his personality. Speaking about someone's competence or incompetence is talking about his ability to perform his duties as an elected official. Of course given his recent letter to editor whereby he demonstrates his lack of understanding of libel and slander, I'd be worried about what kind of lawyer he'll make. Should he find a way to pass the Bar exam, he may be the first attorney in the Commonwealth to have a client condemned to death for a parking violation!
John DiMascio December 16, 2012 at 01:39 AM
First of all I don't dislike either of them personally. I don't have a clue who Sonny is. I've only seen his posts. Kenny is a likeable kid. As for the rest of your comment, what pray tell are you talking about? If you're referring to Tuesday's meeting, I'm still fighting a bug. I suppose I could have attended as some of my friends suggested and sat with next to the supporters of the resolution. How did they put it? "Germ Warfare!"
John DiMascio December 16, 2012 at 06:25 AM
Ah, I missed the reference. Let's put it this way, the young Law Students exact attendance record is something I was advised to look in to. It is a matter of public record. But you know.... although I trust my sources, I actually shouldn't not have made that remark until I had first hand knowledge. Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa! So now you can say legitimately say Pot and Kettle to me. But let me reiterate for the record. I have nothing personal against Councilor Woodland. He's good kid. I've had a couple of conversations with him in the past, fro that I gleaned that he cares about people. But I have some serious policy disagreements with him. From watching various council meetings it's evident to be that he's in over his head. He doesn't have a proper understanding of what the Town Council is elected to do. Admirably, he cares deeply about issues. But these issues don't belong before the Town Council. Not too long ago he was part of an effort to get Council to take up a resolution expressing support for a workers at Beaver Brook Program in Waltham to unionize. Well: 1) The Council shouldn't be getting involved in the labor dispute of a private concern. 2) The dispute involved parties outside of Watertown. Fortunately, only one other councilor wanted to debate the matter, so it never saw the light of day.


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