“Citizens United” Bill Passes Assembly

Thursday, May 12, 2016


Sacramento, CA – Legislation authored by Senator Ben Allen (D – Santa Monica) and Senator Mark Leno (D – San Francisco) passed the state Assembly today on a vote of 48 – 26.  Senate Bill (SB) 254 would place an instructional measure on the November 2016 ballot which, if passed, would urge California’s elected officials to use all of their constitutional authority, including, but not limited to, proposing and ratifying one or more amendments to the United States Constitution, to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

The 2010 Citizens United ruling by the US Supreme Court 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.  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.

“People across the political spectrum are frustrated and want to weigh in about the unchecked power of money in politics,” Senator Allen said.  “It is one of the most damaging forces affecting politics and our system of governance, and Californians deserve to have their voices heard on it.”

“The Citizens United decision undercuts our basic democratic values by giving special interests a disproportionate voice in the political process,” said Senator Leno. “Voters should have an opportunity to weigh in on this misguided ruling. They understand that when money speaks, the people should not be silenced.”

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 instructional measure on the November 2014 statewide ballot identical to that proposed in SB 254.  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.

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