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July 5, 2012

California Lawmakers Call for a Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Citizens United, Restore Fair Elections and Constitutional Rights to the People

California Becomes the Sixth State Legislature to Call for an Amendment

WASHINGTON, D.C. – California today became the sixth state to stand up against the corporate takeover of elections and call for a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allows corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. The California Senate voted 24-11 to pass the resolution.

With the passage of Assembly Joint Resolution (AJR) 22, the California Legislature joins Hawaii, New Mexico, Vermont, Rhode Island and Maryland in calling for a constitutional amendment. The final vote in the California Senate came just shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Montana’s restrictions on corporate spending in its elections, signaling that it is not going to reconsider its Citizens United ruling anytime soon.

“California, the nation’s largest state, has joined the growing chorus of voices calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and return fair elections and constitutional rights to the people,” said Jonah Minkoff-Zern, senior organizer with Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign. “The voices of the 99% are growing stronger in demanding a government that is truly by and for the people. Together we will create a more democratic and more just nation.”

Public Citizen has been instrumental in working with Assemblymembers Bob Wieckowski and Michael Allen to introduce the resolution and push it through the legislative process, and worked with activists to keep pressure on the Legislature. Public Citizen was joined by Common Cause, California PIRG, CREDO Mobile, California Church IMPACT, Free Speech for People, California Labor Federation, California League of Conservation Voters and many other organizations in advancing the resolution. As part of the effort, Public Citizen joined allied organizations led by CREDO Mobile in presenting more than 50,000 signatures urging the California Legislature to pass the legislation.  

“Today’s vote sends a clear message that California rejects this misguided ruling made by the conservative activists on the Supreme Court,” Wieckowski said. “The Legislature’s action and the 50,000 Californians who quickly signed petitions in support of AJR 22, show that it is time to restore sanity to our campaign finance laws. If Congress doesn’t act, our electoral process will be more dominated by wealthy interests and their concerns will drown out the voice of common Americans. This resolution is designed to send a grassroots message to Washington about the urgent need to overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling and restore fair elections to the people.”

Added California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg: “I’m proud that the California State Senate passed AJR 22, memorializing our disagreement with the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and calling upon the U.S. Congress to act to overturn the decision. Since the decision, large corporations and the wealthy have dominated campaign spending. We must tip the scales back to a balance that once again gives a strong voice to the people.”

Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, Super PACs and other independent groups– many which can hide the identities of their donors– have spent huge amounts, in some cases outspending individual campaigns by a ratio of 2-to-1. Citizens United-enabled outside group spending is devoted overwhelmingly to negative attack ads. And the funds come from a very small cluster of people; just 22 individuals and corporations accounted for half the monies raised by Super PACs through the end of 2011.

In California’s 2010 U.S. Senate race between Barbara Boxer and Carly Fiorina, Super PACs and other outside interests spent more than $10 million to influence the election. They also spent $5.4 million on U.S. House of Representatives races in the state.

Public Citizen has helped lead the introduction of similar resolutions in Massachusetts, Vermont and Maryland, and has supported the efforts of local activists and lawmakers who have introduced similar resolutions in Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, New Jersey, Connecticut and New York. In total, resolutions have been introduced or passed in 26 states and have passed in more than 250 cities and towns nationwide.

“Unless we aim to turn over control of our elections to Karl Rove, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Sheldon Adelson and a very few others, we need a constitutional amendment to reset our campaign finance system and to re-establish the principle that democracy means rule by the people, not giant corporations,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.

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