The U.S. Supreme Court’s destructive Citizens United decision opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate and union money in elections, to the detriment of our democracy.
We weren’t thrilled, however, about cluttering the ballot with an advisory measure urging California elected officials to use their power to overturn the 2010 ruling, especially since the Legislature approved a very similar resolution in 2014.
But now that Proposition 59 is before voters, it is worth supporting, if only to avoid sending the wrong message. It’s also possible that overwhelming approval could put more pressure on California’s members of Congress to seek a constitutional amendment.
Of the state’s 55 U.S. representatives and senators, 34 have signed on to proposals for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton pledges to pursue a constitutional change if elected, and Republican Donald Trump has also been critical of the ruling.
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The good government groups backing Prop. 59 make a plausible case that grass-roots voter support is more powerful than just the Legislature’s – and that a resounding “yes” vote in a congressional district could persuade fence-sitting lawmakers to support repeal.
But advocates also concede that it could backfire. If the measure fails by a wide margin in a congressional district, that would give political cover to a representative to stand by Citizens United. While advocates like to call Prop. 59 a “voter instruction,” it’s merely advisory and would only “instruct” members of Congress if they decide to follow the result.
Prop. 59 is one of 17 statewide measures before voters on Nov. 8. Sticklers for streamlining the ballot may want to abstain from voting. But to vote “no” if you oppose Citizens United would be self-defeating.
Voters in Colorado, Massachusetts and Montana approved similar ballot measures in 2012, and one is on the November ballot in Washington state. In all, 16 other states have also called in one way or another for overturning the ruling, according to advocacy groups.
But California carries much more weight and the momentum from a victory here would be significant. The path to constitutional change and to fix our broken campaign finance system will be long and difficult. Passing Prop. 59 is only one step, but possibly an important one.