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Corporations are not people, and money is not speech.
That's what Salt Lake City residents say by an overwhelming 90 percent to 10 percent margin, according to a special mail ballot-opinion question. The results were announced Tuesday.
A grassroots organization, Move to Amend Salt Lake, gathered more than the required signatures of 10 percent of Salt Lake City voters to push the special mail balloting.
"[It's] a resounding victory," said Giles Larsen of Move to Amend. "It really couldn't be any better than this."
The Salt Lake organization is part of a national Move to Amend campaign active in about 90 cities and dedicated to undoing the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The ruling opened the floodgates for unlimited corporate and union spending on federal and state elections.
The Salt Lake City outcome is nonbinding, said Council Chairman Kyle LaMalfa. But the council spent $98,000 on the mail-in survey so that Salt Lakers could voice their opinion.
"This doesn't create a new law," he said. "It's a statement. [Salt Lake City residents] agree with the principles of Move to Amend."
Of the 80,827 ballots mailed in early September, 19,607 were returned, said City Recorder Cindi Mansell. That is equivalent to 24 percent of registered voters.
The question that was put to voters was whether they supported these statements: "Only human beings, not corporations, are endowed with constitutional rights; and money is not speech and therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech."
In favor were 17,229 voters; opposed were 1,990. Another 388 ballots were not counted for a variety of reasons.
According to Larsen, the Move to Amend movement is meeting with success across the country and will, at some unspecified time, seek to amend the U.S. Constitution.
"People are behind this with very little exception," Larsen said. "Down the road we will move to the federal level."
The vote was about two years in the making. Salt Lake City officials had earlier decided the question could not go on a regular municipal ballot because, according to Utah law, no such initiative can be put before voters unless it creates law. Move to Amend challenged Salt Lake City at the Utah Supreme Court, but the justices ruled in favor of the city.
Nonetheless, the City Council felt obligated to let residents have a say. In October 2012 the council passed an ordinance that allowed residents to vote on opinion questions.