Pensacola, Florida
Monday July 22nd 2019

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Grassroots Efforts Tackle Corruption

By Ben Sheffler

Ongoing grassroots movements to put an end to government corruption are gaining momentum and happening close to home.

Move to Amend, a nonpartisan coalition of nearly 400,000 people and hundreds of organizations, is trying to gain enough traction to have an amendment added to the U.S.

Constitution that says money is not speech and corporations aren’t entitled to constitutional rights, according to its website.

The movement’s issue is with the 2010 Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and others that effectively said corporations are people and have the right to buy elections and run the government, Move to Amend’s website says.

“The founding fathers are turning over in their graves about this distortion of the Constitution,” said Mike Potters, co-coordinator of the Northwest Florida Move to Amend (NFMTA) chapter. “One of the things they were fighting against was corporate control of government.”

Seeking Council Support
NFMTA has been attending Pensacola City Council meetings since October in an effort to gain its support, hoping Pensacola will become one of the more than 500 cities around the country that have either passed a resolution or are in the process of doing so.

“Our objective is to gather the support, interest and awareness of enough citizens to where city councils and county commissions are going to adopt a resolution,” Potters said.
Potters said he believes the resolutions would then catch the state legislature’s attention, getting them to call on Congress to consider the amendment.

Not only are corporations and money currently affecting outcomes of elections, they also affect who has access to elected officials, Potters said.

“I’m not saying that there’s a lot of evil people out there who are causing this to happen. I’m saying this is human nature and it has to be regulated, otherwise the system develops into what it is now,” he said.

Sixteen states have passed a resolution, and 34 are needed before it reaches a ballot for state legislatures, where three-fourths are needed to ratify a new amendment, according to Potters.

Pensacola City Councilwoman Sherri Myers said she hopes to bring a Move to Amend resolution before the Council in February. If it doesn’t pass, she will then ask the Council to pass a city ordinance that would be on the 2016 ballot.

“I think there’s a lot of support for this in the community to amend the Constitution, declaring that only human beings, not corporations, are endowed with constitutional rights and that money is not speech, and therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech,” she said.

Local Anti-Corruption Movement
Another nonpartisan organization, Represent.Us, is working to pass anti-corruption laws in cities and states around the country and has over 478,000 signatures on its online petition.

It chose Tallahassee as its first location to push anti-corruption laws, and last November about two-thirds of those who voted approved an ethics and campaign finance city charter amendment.

Josh Silver, director of Represent.Us, said it’s not a conservative or liberal problem—it’s an American one.

“Grassroots conservatives and grassroots progressives are equally incensed at the status quo and equally supportive of sweeping reform,” he said.

The charter amendment will create a seven-member ethics board that will review ethics complaints against city officials and levy civil penalties if necessary. It also lowers the maximum campaign contribution to a candidate from $1,000 to $250.

“The reason why politicians vote against the public’s interest is because of money in politics,” Silver said. “It’s the fulcrum to advancing virtually every other issue in America.”

Although most previous attempts at reform dealt with either campaign finance or ethics, it’s important—and possible—to pass both at the same time, according to Silver.

“You don’t fix the problem unless you pass both ethics reforms and campaign finance reforms, because if you cut off the bad ways that money influences politics, you have to figure out good ways for clean money from ordinary constituents to get into politics,” he said.

Myers attempted to strengthen Pensacola’s ethics ordinance last September when she proposed an amendment that included, among other things, making it an ethics violation to interfere with someone attempting to obtain public records. But the proposal didn’t pass.

“I think the issue of corruption is multi-faceted, but I think that it starts with transparency in government,” she said. “And transparency in this government that we have here locally is very difficult to obtain.”

Myers has recently submitted a public records request for copies of the DR-418 form for businesses receiving Economic Development Ad Valorem Tax Exemptions from the city, after not receiving a response from two of her four emails.

“If government isn’t efficient and accountable, and they’re spending our money, then we’ve lost a lot of our rights,” she said.

Myers intends to resubmit a new draft of the ethics ordinance once she takes a good look at what’s taken place in Tallahassee.

While each location might require different aspects of an anti-corruption law, Silver said Represent.Us is flexible and it really depends on motivated and organized activists to contact them.

“We’d love to consider Pensacola,” he said. “If people step up and reach out to us, we’d love to hear what they have in mind”

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City of Tallahassee
Anti-Corruption Charter Amendment
Shall the Charter of the City of Tallahassee be amended to establish an ethics and anti-corruption policy; require the enactment of an ethics code, establishment of an independent ethics board with broad powers, creation of an ethics office and officer; limit campaign contributions to City Commissioners to $250 per contributor per election and establish a citizen campaign finance program with refunds from city funds for contributions and provide for severability.

Vote
Yes 39.474  66.76%
No  19,656  33.24%

For more information on grassroots efforts:
Move to Amend: movetoamend.org
National Anti-Corruption Movement: represent.us
Tallahassee Ethics Reform: citizensforethicsreform.org