Seeking to reverse a tide of money inundating politics, the Democratic-controlled California Senate on Monday called for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution limiting corporate campaign activity.
“If the only voice heard is the one with the most money,” said Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, “what’s become of our democracy?”
While Assembly Joint Resolution 1 does not by itself force any changes, both houses of the Legislature have now embraced language that pushes back on a landmark Supreme Court case equating corporate campaign spending with free speech. The 23-11 vote, with many Republicans in opposition, came the day after more than a dozen protesters were arrested at the state Capitol while demonstrating against money in politics.
The proposed amendment would narrow the doctrine of corporate personhood and would “declare that money does not constitute speech and may be legislatively limited.” It states that corporations should have fewer rights than human beings, noting that corporations do not vote.
“Voters are clearly fed up, and polling shows this, with the notion that money is speech and that big money can drown out the speech of average Americans,” said Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord.
For Congress to convene a constitutional convention empowered to amend the U.S. Constitution, two-thirds of state legislatures need to be on board. The bar is even higher to ratify a proposed amendment: three-quarters of states must approve.
Given that math, translating the resolution into law is a long shot. Vermont has passed a similar measure and Illinois is contemplating one, but even with the assent of those two and California, 31 more states would need to petition Congress.
Derek Cressman, a former secretary of state candidate who was one of those arrested Sunday, downplayed the daunting political math of the constitutional change he seeks.
“Whether it is fast or slow, we’re very aware this is a difficult undertaking,” he said. “And we’ve undertaken difficult things in our history before, especially when you have no alternative.”
Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543. Daniel Rothberg of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.