All Politics is Local

Clark County Citizens United is not that Citizens United but won’t change name

When it was Heather Burgess’ turn to speak before a panel for Western Washington for the Growth Management Hearings Board earlier this week, she noted that she had a brief housing-keeping item to bring up.

Burgess was there on Wednesday representing Clark County Citizens United, a rural landowners group that’s appealing the county’s comprehensive plan, a document that’ll guide growth in Clark County.

Burgess wanted the record to be clear that she was representing Clark County Citizens United, not the Citizens United group that’s now synonymous with a highly publicized 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case that opened the floodgates for corporate money in elections.

And Burgess wanted to the record to not confuse her client with the other Citizens United. She asked that the board’s ruling, due next month, refer to her group as “Citizens” or “CCCU.”

I’ve been wondering about why CCCU has a name that so closely resembles such a controversial court case. Why pick such a confusing name that could make the rural landowners’ group a target for confused campaign finance reform advocates?

So I reached out to Susan Rasmussen, president of CCCU, asking about the name. She sent me back a long email explaining that her group was formed in 1994 in response to the county’s first-ever comprehensive plan. Despite the confusion, they’re not going to change it because they had it first.

Rasmussen noted she’s seen Christine Cook, a county deputy prosecutor, refer to her group as “Citizens United.”

“I considered that offensive and asked  we not be referenced in that way,” wrote Rasmussen. “CCCU’s history goes back over 25 years and we would rather not change our name.”

Rasmussen noted she once reached out to a Portland State University economist who didn’t respond because of the exact same misperception. The economist, according to Rasmussen, suggested the group change its name.

“Consider yourself in good company,” Rasmussen wrote in response to my email.