In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court passed the landmark ruling "Citizens United v Federal Elections Commission." This now famous decision legally redefined the political term "person" to include corporations of any size and scope, including incorporated unions.
The intended result, on the part of the court majority, was to open the floodgates to unlimited and undisclosed political campaign spending for corporations, wealthy individuals and unions under the new constitutional protection of "personhood." The most common and efficient vehicle for moving money is the Political Action Committee, or PAC. Although conventional political wisdom may limit PACs to federal elections, in reality they are not limited in any manner.
In Ashland during the 2010 City Council elections, a local PAC emerged known as "League of Ashland Voters" or LAV. This seemingly innocuous title belied an economically potent group that included (but was not limited to) Adroit Construction, Ashland Shopping Center, Neuman Properties and Development and influential individuals such as Karen DeBoer, Sidney DeBoer, David Bernard and PAC founder William Heimann.
Campaign candidates in Ashland have customarily agreed on a standard and mutual spending cap. In 2010, this amount was $3,213. The LAV raised an additional $5,913 with the intention of spending it on their endorsed candidates. This funding windfall obviously would have made a significant difference for these candidates, when added to their respective $3,213 cap amounts.
The highest profile race during the 2010 election was between incumbent Eric Navickas and challenger Michael Morris. According to the Daily Tidings, the LAV PAC spent most of the $5,913, largely on ads against Navickas.
While the PAC funded expensive ads against Navickas, Morris also had his own campaign funds. He easily outspent Navickas by a significant margin.
Navickas was severely constrained in his ability to rebut numerous campaign advertisements. According to post-election reports, these advertisements had distorted Navickas' record.
No matter how one personally feels about Navickas, it does not serve the public's interest to distort a candidate's record. However, in this case, it did serve the interest of certain businesses and individuals.
During the 2010 elections, LAV Director William Heimann was quoted: "If there are no PACs next election, we will go away. I do not like this idea of PACs." It's significant to note that at that time, the only other local PACs were "Democracy Together" and "Democracy Support." Both were well known as financially defunct and politically inactive.
The 2012 election is expected to be contentious, with the mayor running for re-election and three council seats on the ballot. This year, city issues are complex and the potential for factual distortion and financial opportunism is very high.
Despite the Supreme Court's musings, PACs and their corrupting influence have no place in our community. The citizens of Ashland should expect all Ashland candidates to mutually pledge both a campaign spending cap and a rejection of all PAC influence. We deserve elections based on the candidates' merit, not special-interest "buy offs."
PACs owe their allegiance to no one but those contributing money to achieve the PAC's agenda. Does Ashland really want to elect its officials in such a manner? Should a PAC emerge during our local election, a good personal guideline is this: If a candidate is the target of negative ads paid for by a special-interest PAC, one must ask, "what genuinely motivates those who are financing the PAC?"
Andrew Kubik is an Ashland resident since 2009 and active in Move to Amend Jackson County.