Today, after months of court proceedings, legislative review and grassroots organizing, California Governor Jerry Brown announced that SB 254, The Overturn Citizens United Act, will become law without his signature. SB 254 places a voter instruction on the November ballot that asks Californians if their representatives should “use all of their constitutional authority…to overturn Citizens United v. FEC and other applicable judicial precedents.”
The measure reads:
“Shall California’s elected officials use all their constitutional authority, including, but not limited to, proposing and ratifying an amendment or amendments to the United States Constitution, to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) 558 U.S. 310, and other applicable judicial precedents, to allow the full regulation or limitation of campaign contributions and spending, to ensure that all citizens, regardless of wealth, may express their views to one another, and to make clear that corporations should not have the same constitutional rights as human beings?”
The Governor’s decision rectifies an earlier decision by the California Supreme Court, which removed a similar question (Prop 49) from the 2014 ballot. In January 2016, the Court ruled that it was mistaken to remove the previous measure and agreed that the legislature could restore the measure to the ballot, which has now happened through the passage of SB 254.
On Citizens United, Senator Ben Allen, who cosponsored the bill explained, “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.”
“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,” Senator Allen continued.
“There’s a movement in America to restore our democracy with a 28th Amendment to the US Constitution,” said Michele Sutter of MOVI, Money Out Voters In. “Today, Governor Brown has put the wind in its sails. We will vote in California to overturn Citizens United and the SCOTUS precedents that have allowed money to dictate policy and left the people without a voice. This is a great day for democracy.”
“People across the nation are rising up to call for a 28th Amendment to the US Constitution which will end the big money dominance of our elections and the fiction of corporations being treated as people with constitutional rights,” said John Bonifaz, the Co-Founder and President of Free Speech For People. “With Governor Jerry Brown’s action today on SB 254, the people of California will have their voices heard this November on this critical question of our time. We the people, not corporations and big money interests, shall govern in America.”
“We are thrilled that California voters will be able to go on record this fall and formally instruct our representatives to overturn Citizens United and get big money out of politics” said Emily Rusch, Executive Director, CALPIRG. “Extremely wealthy and corporate donors have far too much influence over who is able to run for office and win. And unfortunately, some of our elected officials have yet to support an amendment to get big money out of politics. This measure is the next step on the path to reform.”
“Money is not speech, and corporations are not people. Full stop. This is obvious to anyone not on the payroll of an enormous corporate outfit,” explained Eddie Kurtz, president and executive director of the California-based Courage Campaign. “As we’ve seen recently in the People’s Report Card of California, Sacramento is drowning in millions of dollars from corporations, leading to more and more legislators voting for the best interest of those corporations, not their constituents. Now is the time to let Californians help lead that movement to overturn Citizens United and formally weigh in on the most vital political issue of our time.”
“If our democratic system of representative government is to survive, the deeply damaging Citizens United and related rulings must be overturned,” said Trent Lange, President of the California Clean Money Campaign. “Billionaires should not have thousands of times more free speech than the average American just because they have so much more money to spend on elections.”
“Today California moves closer to reclaiming our democracy and undoing the corrosive impact of Citizens United,” said Jon Fox, senior democracy campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “It’s clear that we must act now to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and we can’t do that while big oil and gas giants like Chevron and Exxon keep pumping money into our politics to block the policies we need to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the safety of our communities.”
“As the California Supreme Court has held, Proposition 49 was fully legal and never should have been removed from the ballot” said Nicolas Heidorn, California Common Cause Legislation and Policy Counsel “We are excited that the voters will finally have the opportunity to make their voices be heard on this important issue.”
“This victory belongs to the people of California, who always retained the right to weigh in on important issues such as excessive corporate influence. The Court’s removal of a valid ballot measure at the request of a non-profit corporation is a stark example to the power of “corporate persons” to use constitutional rights to override the democratic process and silence the voices of real people,” said Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, national director of Move to Amend.
“An overwhelming majority of Americans share the sentiment that corporations should not have the same rights as people, and big money in politics should be removed. We call on Californians to join the democracy movement, and make clear that corporations are not people and money is not protected speech.”