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California, Vermont legislatures approve bills to work to overturn Citizens United ruling

The California legislature has approved a bill to address a controversial campaign finance ruling – Citizens United – by the U.S. Supreme Court

The California legislature has approved a bill to address a controversial campaign finance ruling – Citizens United – by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The proposal prompted Vermont’s legislature to pass a similar bill, and Illinois is now considering a related option.

The bills would force Congress to call a constitutional convention so the U.S. Constitution can be amended in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission case. The goal of the bills is to overturn the Citizens United decision, which allowed spending by companies in elections.  Key in the Supreme Court's decision is concept that corporations are "people" under the law, entitled to many of the same Constitutional rights granted to human beings, InsideCounselreported. In addition, the First Amendment prevents the government from limiting political spending by such organizations as corporations.

The process started when Calif. Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) introduced AJR 1 in December 2012. AJR 1 was approved recently by the California Senate in a 23-11 vote.

“Most Americans are fed up with the notion that money is speech and that moneyed interests can drown out the speech of average citizens,” Gatto said in a statement. “The Founding Fathers did anticipate that every once in a while, the states would need to prod Congress to act to amend the Constitution. That’s what we are doing.”

 

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Amendments to the U.S. Constitution have started in Congress, and later were ratified later by three-quarters of the states. But AJR 1 uses a process outlined in Article V of the Constitution. That lets states start the process. If two-thirds of the states approve it, Congress then has to call a constitutional convention. The alternate process has never led to the adoption of an amendment.

Also, there is concern about what the convention would address once commenced. “Some legal scholars believe that a constitutional convention, once created, could not be limited in scope - that the delegates would be free to offer amendments on anything,” The San Francisco Chronicle said in a recent editorial. “Under this interpretation, the convention could become a wide-open bazaar of wish lists on everything from balanced budgets to congressional term limits to restrictions on abortion and marriage rights.”

But some lawyers are adamant that AJR1 would limit a convention to campaign finance issues. The newspaper appeared supportive of the bill, while admitting that the “conventional wisdom is that a constitutional amendment will never happen, at least not anytime soon, and not in the absence of a whopper of a scandal that jolts the electorate.”

Nevertheless, the issue of campaign finance reform remains important, Gatto says.

“Campaign spending is at historic highs while accountability and responsibility are at all-time lows,” Gatto added in the statement. “The time for action is now.”

Contributing Author

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Ed Silverstein

Ed Silverstein is a veteran writer and editor for magazines, websites and newspapers. A graduate of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, he has won several...

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