Sacramento, CA – Legislation authored by Senator Ben Allen (D – Santa Monica) and Senator Mark Leno (D – San Francisco) passed the Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee today, moving one step closer to placement on the November 2016 ballot. Senate Bill (SB) 254 is an advisory measure which urges the United States Congress to overturn the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling. It passed the committee on a vote of 5 – 2.
SB 254 is the latest step in a multi-year legislative and legal battle. In 2014, the legislature approved SB 1272 (Lieu), which placed an advisory measure on the November 2014 statewide ballot asking whether Congress should propose an amendment to the Constitution to overturn the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision. The Court’s ruling rolled back the previous ban on corporate spending in federal elections, opening the door to unlimited corporate funds spent on influencing elections, candidate selection, policy decisions and public debate.
“People are frustrated and want to weigh in about the unchecked power of money in politics,” Senator Allen said. “Placing this advisory measure on the ballot gives the largest state in the country a voice in one of the most pressing political issues of our time. It’s our way of participating in the national conversation that has been roiling for decades.”
Since the Citizens United ruling was handed down, spending by Super PACs – funded by organizations whose contribution limits were lifted – has reached $1 billion. More than $600 million of that total has come from just 195 donors and their spouses.
“The Citizens United decision gave special interests in America more power than the people when it comes to money in politics,” said Senator Leno. “It conflicts with every notion of what a democracy is and should be. Allowing voters to weigh in on this misguided decision makes perfect sense. The power of one’s voice should not be dependent upon the size of one’s checkbook.”
In response to an August 2014 challenge by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the California Supreme Court ordered that the measure (Proposition 49) be removed from the ballot while they considered whether the legislature has the authority to place advisory questions on the ballot.
On January 4, 2016, the Court issued its decision concluding that the legislature could pose this particular advisory question to the voters because it was related to potential federal constitutional amendments. The Court also said that since SB 1272 required the measure to go on the November 2014 ballot, and since that election has now passed, the legislature would have to pass another bill to place it on a future ballot.
On January 19, 2016, the legislature filed a petition with the Supreme Court requesting that they modify their opinion and direct the Secretary of State to place SB 1272's advisory question on the November 2016 general election ballot without the need for the legislature to take further action. On February 24, 2016, the court rejected the petition. SB 254 takes the next step to place the advisory measure on the November 2016 ballot.
“This issue brings together all sides of the political spectrum,” Senator Allen said. “It is one of the few topics on which liberals and conservatives are in complete agreement because everyone understands that the unfettered influence of money in politics is not good for our country.”
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