California Legislature Calls for Citizens United Repeal

Our campaign finance needs reform, but not fake reform that hurts working Californians

by Brian Leubitz (Note: I work for the Stop Special Exemptions Campaign. Cross-posted to DailyKos)

On Thursday, the California Senate approved AJR 22, a joint resolution from the Assembly and Senate calling for the repeal of the Citizens United decision. It doesn’t change the very real threat from moneyed interests, but it does put a flag down for change in our campaign finance system. Here is a portion of that:

WHEREAS, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission purports to invalidate state laws and state constitutional provisions separating corporate money from elections; and

WHEREAS, The United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission represents a serious and direct threat to our democracy; and

WHEREAS, The general public and political leaders in the United States have recognized, since the founding of our country, that the interests of corporations do not always correspond with the public interest and that, and, therefore, the political influence of corporations should be limited; and

*** **** ***

Resolved by the Assembly and the Senate of the State of California, jointly, That the Legislature of the State of California respectfully disagrees with the majority opinion and decision of the United States Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission; and be it further

Resolved, That the Legislature of the State of California calls upon the United States Congress to propose and send to the states for ratification a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and to restore constitutional rights and fair elections to the people;…(Resolution)

But what does that mean?

Under Citizens United and subsequent decisions and FEC regulations, SuperPACs (and their California analog, Independent Expenditures) can raise unlimited, and often anonymous, funds to spend on a candidate or campaign. In theory, SuperPACs are supposed to operate entirely independently of the actual campaigns. However, as we’ve seen over the last few months, that is more theoretical and less factual. In fact, Karl Rove, who runs one of the biggest SuperPACs (Crossroads GPS) was at a “strategy” retreat for GOP nominee Mitt Romney in late June. As was Charles Spies, the man who runs the Romey-backing SuperPAC Restore Our Future.

And the amount of money is simply staggering. Karl Rove wants to raise $600 million to spend to get Mitt Romney and other Republicans elected in November. So far, Republican SuperPACs have raised $158mil and Democratic SuperPACs have raised $47mil. While the Republican balance is notable, any way you look at it, the amount of money has grown exponentially for the 2012 election.  Just this week, Restore Our Future reserved over $7 million of Olympics advertising.

With the balance of money being tilted heavily towards Republicans, the next questions is what do they want? If you look at the big federal SuperPACs, the big names that jump out at you are Sheldon Adelson, a gambling magnate.  Also high on the list? The Koch brothers, who made their money in oil business. Harold Simmons is a banking tycoon, and Bob Perry is a developer in Texas. Both were prominent in the so-call Swift Boat Veterans campaign, and are now two of the largest GOP SuperPAC donors.

In California, independent expenditure committees are also spending millions upon millions of dollars upon candidates and campaigns. And while the Special Exemptions Act looks like “campaign reform,” in reality it just gives these same folks more power.  And guess what, they have ideas on how to use it as well.  Just this week, William Oberndorf, a hedge fund manager, gave $150,000 to the Act. Oh, and he’s prominent in the school privatization movement, in case you are wondering at his angle.  He’s not the only one, of course, with several other prominent right-leaning funders already on board.

Take a look at who is financing the Special Exemptions Act. (links here and here.) You’ll find there is a long list of folks who have an interest in changing California in a way that runs counter to working Californians. The Lincoln Club, the Jarvis group, etc. The Special Exemptions Act is just a step in the wrong direction.

California progressives need to work together to defeat this measure. If you haven’t joined the campaign online yet, please take a moment to get connected now. You can also like the campaign on facebook or follow on twitter.

One thought on “California Legislature Calls for Citizens United Repeal”

  1. AJR-22 is a bit disappointing — had the legislature wanted, they could have called for a Constitutional Convention to address Citizens United.  If two thirds of the state legislatures do so, then a convention to amend the Constitution must be held.  any changes proposed at this convention still require a 3/4ths vote of the states to ratify.

    It is a high risk gamble — if such a convention were held, it could do more than just amend for the CU decision.  But I’d think there’s a better chance going this route than expecting the 2/3rds votes in both the House and Senate.

    At heart, we have a sclerotic process for updating our Constitution.  The legislatures of Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming — representing less than 5% of the population of the United States — can block any amendment.  (Similarly, the 38 smallest states can amend without the legislatures of the 12 most populous states, representing a hair under 60% of the population of the United States.)  

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