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Californians Will Be Asked in November Ballot Whether They Want to Overturn Citizens United

First Posted: Jul 22, 2014 05:22 PM EDT
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California voters will have a chance in the November elections to vote on a ballot measure asking them if Congress should amend the U.S. Constitution to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

The Governor of California signed into law Senate Bill 1272 on July 16 -- the Overturn Citizens United Act -- to put the advisory question on the November 2014 ballot.

The group behind the initiative is Money Out Voters In, who were supported by Common Cause. Common Cause is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to accountable government in the public interest.

"This is a great day for democracy," stated Michele Sutter, co-founder of Money Out Voters In.

The case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission arose when the conservative non-profit Citizens United created a political documentary, Hillary: The Movie which they planned to air on cable television during the 2008 election. The movie was seen as "electioneering communication" by the Federal Election Commission which has limits on the production of political ads. Citizens United sued to overturn the decision and the case eventually was heard before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court after two hearings, ruled in a 5-4 majority on January 21, 2010, overturned the provision of the McCain-Feingold Act barring corporations and unions from paying for political ads made independently of candidate campaigns and that corporations, unions and other special interests groups have constitutional rights to spend as much as they like to advocate for and against political candidates. Laws still exist that those interests cannot contribute directly to a candidate.

Justice Stevens wrote the dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer, and Justice Sotomayor. Stevens concluded his opinion by writing, "At bottom, the Court's opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics."

Since that decision, independent spending has increased dramatically with more than $1 billion spent in the 2012 election, and $300 million that did not disclose their donors. 

"We think the Overturn Citizens United Act will energize voters statewide giving them the change to weigh in a major national issue -- how to curb the dominance of money in politics over the voices of voters," said Kathy Feng, Executive Director of California Common Cause.

Other states have carried out similar ballot box referendums on Citizens United, and all with favorable majorities to overturn the decision they include: Chicago, Colorado, Massachusetts and Montana.

The California voter ballot is not legally binding, however, but according to an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal it is a tactic to encourage voters to go to the polls.  Only 25.5 percent of registered California votes turned out for the primary election in June 2014.

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