Winston-Salem City Council member James Taylor Jr. said he has filed a request to put a resolution calling for a Constitutional Amendment to reverse the US Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision on council's agenda.
Council members heard from nine people requesting the resolution, and organizers said Occupy Winston-Salem and Democracy North Carolina have collected signatures from at least 800 people in support of the move.
"Tonight we're asking you to take a stand for your constituents," said Debra Demske of Winston-Salem after mentioning the role of corporate campaign money in local elections.
Tony Ndege of Occupy Winston-Salem said the request was timed to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the group's first public meeting outside City Hall. Ndege said organizers have had promising discussions with council members Molly Leight and Derwin Montgomery, and pledged to mobilize large numbers of citizens in support of the resolution when it comes up for a vote in January.
One council member has remained opposed to the initiative since it was first floated last summer.
"I am publicly in accord with the idea of reversing the Citizens United decision," Councilman Dan Besse said before tonight's meeting. "I think it was a badly decided decision. However, I think that is a personal position. My constituents don't send me to city council to work on my personal agenda. I'm here to work on infrastructure and services that the city's responsible for."
The US Supreme Court ruled in the 2010 Citizens United decision that the government cannot restrict campaign finance expenditures by groups operating independently of candidate committees. The decision gave rise to so-called "super PACs," which can spend unlimited amounts of money airing negative ads against political candidates.
The Winston-Salem residents pushing for council action on Citizens United received outside support from Barbara Carrano, with the Peoples Coalition Against Citizens United, who helped lead the effort to persuade the Greensboro City Council to pass a similar resolution, and from Melissa Price Kromm, director of NC Voters for Clean Elections.
"Citizens United has created a huge imbalance in our country," Carrano said. "I believe that all that has gone wrong in America is directly or indirectly connected with corporate greed. Citizens United makes it legal for money to equal speech in this country. That is wrong."
Kim Thore of Winston-Salem told council about her experience working as a senior manager for a bank and how she decided to quit the corporate track when she was asked to contribute to the bank's political action committee and realized that her own money would be advancing a corporate agenda based only on profit.
"Those funds would support legislation that would lead to the mortgage crisis," she said.
Will Cox said corporate money in politics is relevant to Winston-Salem because it started as a company town that was virtually run by RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co., and members of the Reynolds, Hanes and Gray families took turns serving as mayor. He said the current council is better than that.
Kromm said she is confident the Winston-Salem City Council will pass the resolution, joining 12 other municipalities that have already done so, including Greensboro, Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and Asheville.
"The Congress has been bought," she said. "Every state legislature has been bought. The only recourse the people have is to their local city councils for redress."