Tag Archives: Citizens United

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.

Assembly: Overturn Citizens United

by Brian Leubitz

SuperPACs. They’ve changed the political landscape, for better or worse. Mostly worse.  Now, here in California, Independent Expenditures have pretty much had the same leeway as SuperPACs do on the federal level for years. But the stakes for the presidency are worth, apparently, far more for corporate special interests and billionaires than control of our Legislature.  Apparently.

But, this week the Assembly joined several other states in calling for the overturning of Citizens United:

The California Assembly yesterday approved a resolution urging Congress to overturn the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The split decision helped give rise to super PACs by allowing unlimited contributions from corporations and unions to attack or support politicians, as long as the committees don’t coordinate with candidates. The California bill, AJR 22, is part of a campaign to pass such resolutions around the country.(CalWatch)

This is a noble sentiment, and I applaud the Assembly Democrats for making it. However, let’s be real here. The Supreme Court, with its conservative core, isn’t particularly interested in seeing a return of regulated campaign finance. Since the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo case, it has all been a big race to deregulate campaigns.  SUre, there have been fits and starts of trying to come up with some way to control spending. To find some way to equalize the voice of the people, so that the rich don’t hold vastly more power than those who can’t afford to buy nationwide TV spots.

But that hasn’t happened.  Overturning Citizens United is an important step. However, as the “Move to Amend” groups are pointing out, the key underlying distortion is that for some reason the Court thinks that money is speech, and that corporations are people. It isn’t, and they aren’t.

People, Not SuperPACs, Should Decide Our Elections

Maybe it’s our winter sunshine while snow falls elsewhere-or how we embrace innovation and welcome eccentrics rejected in other places. Some Californians presume our state a haven from the nastiest aspects of American life. But we are not.

Now the fallout from a dangerous U.S. Supreme Court ruling is hitting our political landscape. Stopping the corrupting effects of the 2010 Citizens United decision is a serious and important challenge. The ruling has already prompted the rollback of some hard-won checks on special interests’ domination of elections in California. It further tilts the playing field against the election of community-based leaders and in favor of candidates bankrolled by special interests and beholden to their big-money marketing blitzes.

Citizens United threatens governance of, by, and for the people. It’s no coincidence that the first national election under this ruling was the first in 40 years in which the ranks of women state legislators actually shrank, significantly. California’s progress on diversity and openness in public service and our hopes of fixing revenue collection and preserving schools and vital services hang in the balance as long as Citizens United remains the law of the land. Because it hinders our capacity to elect leaders who truly reflect and will stay accountable to our communities, Californians should demand its reversal.

It was just over two years ago that a narrow 5-to-4 majority on the high court announced the sweeping decision in the case of Citizens United. The ruling bulldozed more than a century of curbs on corporate spending in elections, including California’s limits at the local, school board, and county level. This is not about a cash-filled brief case. We’re talking dump trucks. The ruling paved the way for millions of dollars in unlimited independent expenditures by businesses and political action committees on steroids called super PACs. The reasoning? That any barriers unfairly burden the free expression of companies.

Corporations as people, with spending called free speech? For Californians, the ruling worsens an election forecast already filled with mailers praising or deploring candidates, sent by outside interests disguised in pious names. Voters who scratch their heads trying to detect the origins of these postcards or glossy hit pieces that clog their mailboxes should get ready to rub their scalps raw, thanks to Citizens United.

Sharp criticism of the ruling has united a bipartisan coalition that ranges from Occupy Wall Street to President Obama to Reagan appointee to the Supreme Court and former justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Alarm bells that O’Connor has sounded about corporate money swaying races for judge and state supreme courts have motivated some Republicans to join in the reform push.

Right here in Los Angeles, the city council unanimously passed a resolution condemning the ruling. The Montana state supreme court showed courage in defying Citizens United and defending the state’s barriers to corporate electioneering. Lawmakers in both New Mexico and Hawaii passed similar resolutions, as have scores of cities, towns, and town meetings in states such as Vermont.

This push is too important to allow anti-labor activists to misdirect its passion. Some extremists in California have used the ruling, which unleashed union spending along with corporations’, as an excuse to launch a ballot measure meddling in how unions collect members’ dues and make their voices heard. With stats from 2010 showing that overall election spending by corporations outpaced unions’ by more than 4 to 1, and worse in many states, lashing out at labor is the wrong approach.

What’s needed is a full-scale challenge to the ruling, from state lawmakers, members of Congress, stockholders, and voters.

First, California lawmakers should join colleagues in other states by showing their resolve to undo the ruling and stand behind our local standards. California’s delegates in Congress should push for a constitutional amendment to reverse the ruling and allow states to set their own limits on special interests’ spending. Stockholders should tell corporations in which they’re invested that campaigning is best left to candidates and elections, to the electorate. Americans should stand behind the President who opposes the ruling, and whose appointee on the Supreme Court dissented from it. And California voters should turn a careful eye on candidates fueled by outside interests and turn back their efforts to dominate elections. Students, seniors, public servants, small businesspeople, and struggling middle class families are depending on someone to stand up for fairness and fight for them, not bend to the special interests. I know whose side I’m on.

Luis Lopez is a Democratic candidate for Assembly in the 51st District. The district covers East L.A., where Lopez was born and works as a nonprofit healthcare director, and Northeast Los Angeles, where he has lived and served for a decade as neighborhood council member and planning commissioner.  For more information, please go to LopezforAssembly.com

Move to Amend in Monterey, 2/9/12

David Cobb, a fiery speaker, and former Green Party presidential candidate, is touring California giving his talk “Creating Democracy & Challenging Corporate Rule.”  This presentation is part history lesson and part heart-felt call-to-action!

Cobb is an organizer and national spokesman for MoveToAmend.org, a coalition of over 160,000 people and organizations whose goal is to amend the United States Constitution to end corporate rule and legalize democracy.

This event is free and open to the general public, donations requested, no one turned away for lack of funds.

Event Details

February 9, 2012

7:00 – 9:00 PM

Carleton Hall

400 West Franklin Street

Monterey, CA 93940

Keep Special Interests at Bay in Los Angeles

          We know the Citizens United  v. FEC Supreme Court decision has unleashed a torrent of undisclosed corporate and union spending at the federal level.  It overturned a century of laws and decades of legal precedent.  Common Cause has decided to stand up and take action! Common Cause has joined forces with a number of other organizations to build awareness and educate citizens across  the country about the amounts of money corporations are emptying out of their own pockets to to steal our democracy. The goal of this new coalition is to strengthen the voice of the people and prepare to battle these corporations to save our democracy.

         So far, we have filed a complaint with the Department of Justice asking for an investigation of Justices Thomas and Scalia for attending a strategy session hosted by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch in Rancho Mirage, California, at the same time the Court was considering the case of Citizens United v. FEC in 2008.

         On January 30, 2011, Common Cause, along with over 30 organizations including the California Nurses Association, Courage Campaign, California Labor Federation, Greenpeace, held a peaceful public demonstration to  “Uncloak the Kochs” and turned out 1,500 protesters to Rancho Mirage, CA for the Koch Brothers annual meeting. This event in CA had legs – and people all over the country are starting to following the Koch Brothers money trail. From Wisconsin to Nebraska, people are starting to wake up to special interests stealing our elections.

         In Los Angeles, we’re preemptively stopping the Koch Brothers and other special interests from pushing money into our elections. We are working to strengthen campaign finance laws to keep special interest money at bay with our support of  Measure H, which will do two things:

1. Lift the cap on the public finance trust to create a more robust public financing system.

2. Ban prospective private companies with pending bids on city contracts from making campaign contributions.

         We are pleased to be standing with LA City Council President Eric Garcetti, City Council members Tom LaBonge, Paul Koretz, Paul Krekorian, Jose Huizar, Bill Rosendahl, the California Clean Money Campaign, the League of Women Voters of Los Angeles, Public Campaign, Public Citizen, the William C. Velazquez Institute and others to pass Measure H on March 8.

         All politics is local and we believe that!  Ifnot, then when? When Los Angeles succeeds in passing Measure H, we will send an important message that we are taking back our democracy.  It does not belong to We the special, well-financed interests.  Our democracy belongs to We the People.

The Year that Our Senate Race Became Just Like the Governor’s Race

Barbara Boxer won by about nine points, but that’s not for lack of trying of the right-wing interests to boot her out. Over at California Watch, Chase Davis takes a look at the IEs against Boxer:

The Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United ruling earlier this year helped major corporations and other interest groups spend more than $5 million on California’s Senate race without disclosing their contributors, according to independent spending reports analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Ten months ago, when the high court handed down Citizens United, effectively allowing businesses and trade groups to contribute unlimited sums to federal elections, the punditocracy was eager to predict an unprecedented flood of secret interest-group cash that would soon flow into competitive elections nationwide.

Many of those predictions have come true. In the months since, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has emerged as exhibit A in the ruling’s predicted consequences, contributing millions of dollars to primarily Republican candidates while taking advantage of new legal covers to keep the sources of its contributions secret. (CalWatch)

In all, there was about eleven million dollars of these direct campaign ads lobbed up against Boxer.  You can be the judge on effectiveness, perhaps they did move the needle a little bit. But in the end, I guess it is just as well that this money was spent in California, rather than other races.  The Chamber’s five million bucks in secret money are the most egregious, and there should be disclosure rules, but the money isn’t going to slow without some sort of constitutional amendment to bring our democracy back to, you know, democracy rather than plutocracy.

But in California we have essentially had the Citizens United Scheme for years now.  While we have a more robust disclosure system than the federal government now has, we have allowed essentially unlimited independent expenditures in state races.  This is of course the reason that you see many races where IEs outspend both major candidates. It is why we have been stuck with a legislature dominated by one interest group or another dating back to Hiram Johnson’s era.

It hasn’t worked particularly well in California, and Citizens United only added to the inordinate power of the wealthy.  With the DISCLOSE act flailing in Congress, don’t expect any major changes anytime soon.

Did Democracy Die in America

Green Gary Ruskin paints a bleak picture of our political future in a post today at Green Change.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today in Citizens United may bring an end to democracy in America. It is effectively a corporate coup d’etat.

By striking down a 103 year-old law that prohibits corporate contributions in federal elections, the Court is allowing giant corporations and their massive stores of wealth to purchase elections at all levels of government. This decision will devastate the integrity and moral legitimacy of our government and our elected officials. It will bring more corruption than our nation has known in more than a century.

Ruskin is a lawyer who spent over a decade as Director of the Congressional Accountability Project and also headed Commercial Alert.  

Should we now give up all pretense that spending limits can be enforced, or that public financing of elections is a reasonable way to go?  Even if the elections are officially publicly financed, there seems to be no limit on soft money contributions from corporations. Rick Hasen at Huffington Post doubts that this is the solution.

If we worry about corporate dominance of money in the political process, how about trying to subsidize some campaigns through public financing. Today’s opinion does not take public financing plans off the table, but an earlier Supreme Court opinion, FEC v. Davis, likely takes the most attractive portion of public financing plans out.

California has a good experiment going on with the financing of the Secretary of State race.  While not perfect, it does go a long way toward getting big money out of the picture.  Still, with the SCOTUS decision today, I would expect to see this challenged before we get to try it out.

We already have a dominance of corporate spending in CA elections.  It really takes place in the machinations involved in the ever increasing number of initiatives, where the airways fill with misleading hyperventiated negative commercials that only Gary South could love.  

Take any major issue we are dealing with: Health Care and Climate Change come most to mind, and figure out how the will of the people is anything more than the will of the corporation.  Consider the power of Exxon-Mobil and or Chevron vis-a-vis climate change legislation and offshore drilling.  Consider the power of Stewart Resnick regarding water.

I agree with Gary. It is the Democracy of the $$.