Today in Sacramento, the California Senate passed SB 254 The Overturn Citizens United Act in a 26 to 11 vote. The bill now goes to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. SB 254 would place a voter instruction on the November ballot that would ask Californians if their representatives should “use all of their constitutional authority to overturn Citizens United v. FEC and other applicable judicial precedents.”
Supporters of the bill traveled from across the state to gather in the Senate gallery as the bill’s lead author, Ben Allen of Santa Monica, urged his colleagues to join him in support of the bill:
“Citizens United is but one of the many U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have made effective campaign finance reform more difficult. It rolled back the previous ban on corporate spending in federal elections, opening the door to unlimited corporate funds being spent on influencing elections,” said Senator Allen.
“At the core of these decisions is the belief that spending money in an election is a protected form of free speech and those rights extend not only to human beings but to other entities as well, including corporations. I believe most Californians do not share that sentiment and we should give them the opportunity to make their collective voices heard.”
Following the vote, supporters of SB 254 submitted to the Governor’s office a letter asking Governor Brown to sign the bill into law and let the people vote to overturn Citizens United.
To read the text of that letter, click here.
“We asked Governor Brown to let democracy work” said Michele Sutter of MOVI, money out voters in. “America needs to have the conversation about how to fix a broken system where those who have everything get more and those with nothing get less. I think that fix will require a Constitutional amendment. Others disagree, but we need to have the conversation. With the governor’s signature we will have that conversation here in California.”
California voters are hoping that their representatives in the California Legislature and Governor Brown will give them the opportunity again to instruct their representatives on a matter of grave concern to all Americans. Governor Brown has a June 8th deadline to decide on whether to take no action, to sign the bill, or to veto it.
Californians were poised to vote on a similar measure in 2014 when the CA Legislature passed SB 1272, The Overturn Citizens United Act” and that bill became law and qualified for the ballot as Proposition 49.
But Californians did not vote on Prop 49 in 2014. The California Supreme Court ordered Prop 49 removed from the ballot while the Court considered the measure’s legitimacy. The California Supreme Court had never before in the history of California removed a ballot measure enacted by the CA Legislature.
In January 2016, the CA Supreme Court ultimately ruled 6 to 1 that Proposition 49 was a legitimate exercise of legislative authority, but neglected to order the measure restored to the November 2016 ballot, as the CA Legislature had requested, insisting instead that the legislature pass a new bill.
In her dissent from her colleagues at the time Prop 49 was removed from the ballot, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakayue cautioned her colleagues against taking the “extraordinary step” that would “disenfranchise voters.”
In the October 2015 hearing on the Prop 49 case the Chief Justice responded to the often cited “ballot clutter” argument against the voter instruction measure saying “[W]hat does ballot clutter matter if it leads to substantive law?”
Substantive law is exactly what California’s last voter instruction measure led to. It was 1892 and the question posed to the electorate concerned the direct election of Senators. Californians passed that voter instruction and 21 years later the 17th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified.
California voters are hoping that their representatives in the CA Legislature and Governor Brown give them the opportunity again to instruct their representatives on a matter of grave concern to all Americans.