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In 2010 the Supreme Court issued its decision in Citizens United v. FEC, holding that corporations and unions can spend unlimited amounts of money to influence political campaigns.

Overturning Citizens United

The decision was the most blatant in a long line of case law that has misjudged the corrosive influence of big money in politics. On May 21st, more than three years after Citizens United, Los Angeles voters will have an opportunity to speak out against the decision and ask their leaders to do something about it. That opportunity is Proposition C.

Proposition C is two parts question, one part instruction. The text reads,

“Shall the Voters adopt a resolution that there should be limits on political campaign spending and that corporations should not have the constitutional rights of human beings and instruct Los Angeles elected officials and area legislative representatives to promote that policy through amendments to the United States Constitution?”

A yes vote on Proposition C will accomplish three things. First, voters can state loudly and clearly that there should be limits on political campaign spending, which directly addresses the Supreme Court’s flawed reasoning in Citizens United and its 1976 predecessor Buckley v. Valeo. In Buckley, the Supreme Court struck down limits on independent political expenditures, concluding that there was little “danger that expenditures will be given as quid pro quo for improper commitments from candidates.” The Court also wrote that “the appearance of influence or access… will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy.”

Thirty-seven years later the Court’s logic sounds more dated than disco. Legislatures craft laws that seem tailor made for special interests, while Congress is about as popular as cockroaches or traffic jams. Yet Citizens United doubled down on Buckley, creating a system in which nearly anyone, any corporation, or any union can spend as much money as they or it wants to influence our public servants. A yes vote on Proposition C is a direct challenge to Buckley and Citizens United. It’s an assertion that the integrity of our electoral process is more important than one individual’s or corporation’s desire to buy votes for their chosen candidate.

Second, Proposition C gives voters a chance to say something that should go without saying—that corporations and people are different and that those differences matter. When people vote, volunteer, or donate to a political candidate, they do so based on competing interests, emotions, and priorities. Somewhere in America a gay, gun-owning union member who is concerned about health care costs and illegal immigration is deciding how to cast his ballot. When corporations spend money to influence political campaigns, they do so to further one priority above all others—the pursuit of profits. In Citizens United the Supreme Court overlooked that “minor” difference, discussing corporations as if they are some of the most revered scholars and skilled debaters in modern society.

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We know better. Our leaders and those five Supreme Court justices need to recognize that we the people should have more influence over our government than corporations do. By voting yes on Proposition C, we can make it clear that individuals should be at the center of the electoral process and that corporate speech does not deserve the same level of protection as individual speech.

Third, a yes vote on Proposition C instructs our elected officials to promote limits on campaign spending and curtail corporate political power through an amendment to the Constitution. Buckley and Citizens United have established that we cannot trust the Supreme Court to ensure that our elections are characterized by opportunity, fairness, and an honest exchange of ideas. In their hands campaigns have become more synonymous with fundraising, advertising, and an exchange of donations for promises. The only way to restore our democracy and prevent out of touch justices from undermining it is through a constitutional amendment in the mold of Proposition C.

Please join California Common Cause to learn more about Proposition C and support the Campaign to Constitutionally Crush Citizens United!

Date: Saturday, May 11, 2013
Time: 12:00pm – 2:00pm

At the home of LA Progressive founders Dick Price & Sharon Kyle in Mount Washington:
(address provided upon RSVP)

Speakers include:

  • Los Angeles City Councilmember Richard Alarcon (CD-7)
  • Kathay Feng, Executive Director, California Common Cause

The prospect of passing an amendment may seem daunting, something that only occurred in the horse and buggy days, but in fact there are precedents to show us the way. Prior to the Seventeenth Amendment, Senators were chosen by state legislatures and the Senate was crippled by corruption and electoral gridlock. Sound familiar? In response to the dysfunction, twenty-seven states called for a constitutional convention to promote an amendment for the direct election of Senators. Congress eventually followed the states’ lead and passed the Seventeenth Amendment, which created the system we have in place today. There’s no reason we can’t follow the same model to pass an amendment that undoes the damage done by Buckley and Citizens United.

In fact, we are already following that model. Over 400 cities and states have passed measures similar to Proposition C. Getting big money out of politics is something that even red state Montana, blue state Massachusetts, and purple state Colorado can agree on. On May 21st Los Angeles can become the biggest city yet to take a stand for voters and against moneyed interests. So if the mayoral race or marijuana aren’t sufficiently motivating, supporting Proposition C is reason enough to cast your ballot. Los Angelinos should come out in full force, vote yes on Proposition C, and help build this national movement.

david edward burke

David Edward Burke

Tuesday, 30 April 2013