Campaign fund issue may be on city ballot

Three Ashland City councilors and Mayor John Stromberg have narrowly approved taking steps to get a measure before city voters this November in which residents could express their disapproval of increased spending on political campaigns across America.

The City Council split, 3-3, on a vote to take the action, with Stromberg casting the tie-breaking vote to move forward.

The councilors and mayor voted to change city law to allow residents to vote on what is known as an advisory resolution. The change is needed before the issue can be put on the ballot.

In November, residents could express their opinion about a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that governments cannot restrict election spending by corporations and unions.

A Supreme Court majority said the entities have the same First Amendment free speech rights as individual people, and election spending counts as speech.

Groups across the country are working for passage of a constitutional amendment that would allow governments to put limits on campaign spending. The Supreme Court ruling has unleashed a flood of unregulated election spending that threatens democracy, according to the groups.

The groups are asking local governments and citizens to pass resolutions against the Supreme Court ruling and in favor of an amendment to limit election spending. "Clearly what we have is legalized bribery," said Ashland resident Frances Dunham, who supports regulations on campaign spending.

City Councilor Dennis Slattery said the effort to limit spending may not be winnable. "At the same time, we have to keep fighting those windmills," Slattery said, referring to the literary figure Don Quixote and his futile battles against the structures.

Slattery was joined by Stromberg and Councilors Greg Lemhouse and Carol Voisin in approving first steps to get the issue before Ashland voters.

Lemhouse said the advisory resolution language should be sure to mention spending by unions as well as corporations.

Sample resolution language submitted by concerned residents mentions corporations and "other entities," without specifically listing unions.

"It's truly bipartisan if you take out all the big money," Lemhouse said.

Councilors Russ Silbiger, David Chapman and Mike Morris voted against the move to get the issue before Ashland voters.

The City Council already voted in March to express its support for an amendment affirming the power of Congress to regulate campaign spending.

Some opponents of unlimited campaign spending wanted stronger wording at that time.

Some opponents also believe that votes by whole communities carry more weight than votes by elected bodies.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or

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