California has become the sixth state to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and put a stop to the never-ending flood of corporate money in our elections.
The California Senate voted 24-11 to pass the resolution and with the passage of Assembly Joint Resolution (AJR) 22, the California Legislature joins Hawaii, New Mexico, Vermont, Rhode Island and Maryland in calling for a constitutional amendment to undue Citizens United. The final vote in the California Senate came just shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Montana’s restrictions on corporate spending in its elections, signaling that it is not going to reconsider its Citizens United ruling anytime soon.
“California, the nation’s largest state, has joined the growing chorus of voices calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and return fair elections and constitutional rights to the people,” said Jonah Minkoff-Zern, senior organizer with Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign. “The voices of the 99% are growing stronger in demanding a government that is truly by and for the people. Together we will create a more democratic and more just nation.”
Assemblymembers Bob Wieckowski and Michael Allen introduced the resolution and pushed it through the legislative process. Those lawmakers worked with activists to keep pressure on the Legislature. Public Citizen was joined by Common Cause, California PIRG, CREDO Mobile, California Church IMPACT, Free Speech for People, California Labor Federation, California League of Conservation Voters and many other organizations in advancing the resolution.
“[The] vote sends a clear message that California rejects this misguided ruling made by the conservative activists on the Supreme Court,” Wieckowski said. “The Legislature’s action and the 50,000 Californians who quickly signed petitions in support of AJR 22, show that it is time to restore sanity to our campaign finance laws. If Congress doesn’t act, our electoral process will be more dominated by wealthy interests and their concerns will drown out the voice of common Americans. This resolution is designed to send a grassroots message to Washington about the urgent need to overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling and restore fair elections to the people.”
Added California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg: “I’m proud that the California State Senate passed AJR 22, memorializing our disagreement with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and calling upon the U.S. Congress to act to overturn the decision. Since the decision, large corporations and the wealthy have dominated campaign spending. We must tip the scales back to a balance that once again gives a strong voice to the people.”
Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, Super PACs and other independent groups – many which can hide the identities of their donors – have spent huge amounts, in some cases outspending individual campaigns by a ratio of 2-to-1. Citizens United-enabled outside group spending is devoted overwhelmingly to negative attack ads. And the funds come from a very small cluster of people; just 22 individuals and corporations accounted for half the monies raised by Super PACs through the end of 2011.
In California’s 2010 U.S. Senate race between Barbara Boxer and Carly Fiorina, Super PACs and other outside interests spent more than $10 million to influence the election. They also spent $5.4 million on U.S. House of Representatives races in the state.
“Unless we aim to turn over control of our elections to Karl Rove, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Sheldon Adelson and a very few others, we need a constitutional amendment to reset our campaign finance system and to re-establish the principle that democracy means rule by the people, not giant corporations,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.
The constitutional amendment process is slow but necessary if we are to truly retake our democracy from the flood of special interest money. California is an important addition to this fight.
So, what stat is next?
Photo from Donkey Hotey via flickr.