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Proposition 59: Campaign Finance: Voter Instruction. Legislative Advisory Question.

The California Labor Federation supports this measure. Want to learn more? Read Derek Cressman’s “Yes on Prop 59: Make Congress Accountable” in California Labor’s 2016 Top Props Series. Check it out here.


Click here to download California Labor’s 2016 Endorsements & Ballot Measures Analyses

A YES vote on this measure means:

The California Secretary of State would be required to communicate to the US Congress the results of the Advisory Measure.

A NO vote on this measure means:

No action would be taken by the Secretary of State.

Official Ballot Question:

Shall California’s elected officials use all of their constitutional authority, including, but not limited to, proposing and ratifying one or more amendments to the United States Constitution, to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (2010) 558 U.S. 310, and other applicable judicial precedents, to allow the full regulation or limitation of campaign contributions and spending, to ensure that all citizens, regardless of wealth, may express their views to one another, and to make clear that corporations should not have the same constitutional rights as human beings?


In 2010, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision on Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission. In the decision, the Court struck down a 63-year old law that prohibited corporations from using their general treasury funds to make independent expenditures in federal elections, finding that the law violated the constitutional protection of freedom of speech. The Citizens United decision rolled back previous bans on corporate spending in elections. Since the Citizens United ruling was handed down, spending by Super PACs has reached $1 billion. More than $600 million of that total has come from just 195 donors and their spouses.

Since 2010, over 50 local jurisdictions in California have taken positions in support of amending the U.S. Constitution to overturn Citizens United.  Nationally, 16 states, including California, have taken similar actions. Since 1912, Montana has barred corporate expenditures in political campaigns. That state’s highest court decided that Citizens United did not supersede that ban, though that case is being appealed to a higher court.

SB 1272 (Lieu), proposed to place an advisory question regarding Citizen’s United on the ballot for the November 2014 general election. The Legislature approved SB 1272 and it was put on the November 2014 ballot as Proposition 49. However, before the November 2014 election, the California Supreme Court ordered Proposition 49 be removed from the ballot while it considered the question of whether the Legislature had the authority to place advisory questions on the ballot. In January, the Supreme Court ruled in Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association v. Padilla (2016) that the Legislature did have the authority to place advisory questions on the ballot.

The Court’s decision, however, noted that SB 1272 expressly provided for that question to be placed on the November 2014 ballot. Since the 2014 election already occurred, the Court decided that the Legislature would need to pass another bill to put the advisory question on the ballot. Earlier this year, the Legislature filed a petition for rehearing with the Supreme Court to direct the SOS to place SB 1272’s advisory question on the November 2016 general election ballot, but the Supreme Court denied that petition. As a result of that decision, Senators Allen and Leno introduced SB 254, which would place a near-identical question as posed by Proposition 49 on the November 2016 ballot as a new proposition.

This advisory question would affirm the support of voters in California to amend the U.S. Constitution to repeal the Citizen’s United decision to allow regulation of campaign contribution spending.

Support and Opposition:

Supporters include Common Cause and a number of elected Democrats. They argue that the Citizens United decision granted corporations the same rights as people and equated free speech with money, as pertaining to political and campaign contributions. They argue that the idea of money being speech has perverted the democratic process and allows the wealthy to speak louder than those with lesser means. This results in public policy that benefits the wealthy special interests rather than the public interest. They say that asking the voters of California to weigh in on the Citizens United decision allows for dialogue about the role of money in the democratic process.

The opposition includes the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and a number of elected Republicans. They argue against not just the content, but also the process. They say that the ballot should not be used as a public opinion poll.  They argue that this proposition is a waste of tax dollars because it will not change state nor federal law. They argue on the content that Citizens United has allowed far more political speech and has made campaigns less predictable and more interesting.

Prior Positions:

The Labor Federation supported Proposition 49 in 2014 which was substantially similar to this measure but was removed from the ballot by the Supreme Court.

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