Cheat Sheet: Proposition C Seeks to Limit Corporations' Influence on Campaigns

The 2012 election season was, by far, the most expensive in United States history.

More than $6 billion were spent on candidates running for local, state, and national offices. The presidential race alone had a $2.6 billion bill. The unprecedented spending trumped the second-most expensive campaign season by more than $700 million.

One can argue that anticipated economic factors, such as inflation, made such exceptional expenditure possible.

But for proponents of Proposition C, the unparalleled spending is the result of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC), a 2010 United States Supreme Court decision that prohibits the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations, labor unions, and special interest groups.

On May 21, Los Angeles voters will weigh in on this ruling with Proposition C, a measure that would instruct local lawmakers -- especially those who take up residence in Washington -- to support legislation calling for a reversal of this Supreme Court decision. The idea is that, eventually, public pressure will prompt the drafting of a constitutional amendment that would remove big money from electioneering for good.

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Regardless of your stance on campaign finance reform and the appropriate role of corporations in political races, it's imperative for Los Angeles voters to understand that Proposition C merely a symbolic accord. There is no binding language in Proposition C. Nothing that would shake the foundation of the Citizens United ruling. Nothing that will take away the rights of corporations from funding the campaigns of their choosing in the near future.

But the initiative's proponents -- the Committee for Common Cause and the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) -- hope they can evoke change through popular sentiment and recreate the furor that brought forth the 17th Amendment to the United States' Constitution.

For those blanking on their U.S. history, the 17th Amendment forever changed the way U.S. Senators are elected to office. Prior to the amendment, the United States' Constitution instructed each state legislature to elect its own representatives to the Senate. Senators were not chosen by popular vote.

However reformists in the early 1900s championed symbolic votes, much like the Proposition C campaign, in state legislatures across the country. The political momentum generated by these symbolic votes spurred the writing and passage of the 17th Amendment, which mandates that representatives to the Senate be selected by popular vote.

Proposition C aims to take a page out of history. Its proponents say this is just another step (albeit a major one, given Los Angeles' population) in a process to limit the power of big corporations, labor unions and special interest groups in our political process.

States like Colorado and Montana have passed similar measures, as have the major cities of Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco. Voters on May 21 will decide if Los Angeles follows suit.

Key Points:

  • Would instruct Los Angeles' leaders in Washington to support any resolution calling for an amendment to the United States Constitution that would limit the rights of corporations with regard to funding political campaigns and overturn the Supreme Court's rulings in Buckley v. Valeo (1976) and Citizens United v. FEC (2010).
  • Would instruct Los Angeles' leaders in Washington to work diligently to bring such a joint resolution to a vote and passage.
  • Would instruct each state legislator representing Los Angeles residents to ratify any amendment to the Constitution that is consistent with the purpose and findings expressed in this resolution.

What Your Vote Means:

Voting YES or NO on Proposition C will not have an immediate impact on municipal, state, or federal law.

However voting YES would encourage local politicians to propose and/or support any constitutional amendment that would limit the rights of corporations, labor unions, and special interest groups with regard to funding political campaigns.

A vote NO would not instruct the Los Angeles Congressional Delegation to pursue legislation that would limit the rights of corporations with regard to political expenditures.

Arguments Being Made For:

Big money has no place in elections and our democracy should never be for sale.

Spending huge amounts of money to influence election results isn't free speech, it's bought speech.

Corporations are not people, and therefore do not deserve the same rights.

Granting multinational corporations artificial rights above and beyond the individual rights of their shareholders undermines the rights of real people as voters, consumers and small business owners.

Voters in Montana, Colorado, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and elsewhere have approved similar measures in the past year by overwhelming majorities.

Arguments Being Made Against:

There are no official arguments made against Proposition C in the May 21 voter's guide. Below are popular arguments made against the ballot measure.

Proposition C is an empty measure and will not enact change on it's own.

The United States Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that the First Amendment prohibits the government from limiting political expendatures by associations, corporations, and labor unions (Citizens United v. FEC, 2010).

The muddled measure is essentially a primal scream about the role of money in politics. L.A. voters should reject it (The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board).

Principal Proponent(s):
Committee for Common Cause, Yes on Prop C, California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG)

For the full text of the proposition, scroll through below:

(You may zoom in by clicking on the magnifying glass above).

About the Author

Benjamin Gottlieb is an award-winning multiplatform journalist from Los Angeles, CA. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, CNN.com and NPR, among others.
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Let's not stop at the municipal or state levels. We can demand campaign finance accountability at the level of the contest for president. Please join other voters making their voices heard:

http://signon.org/sign/hillary-in-16-pac-political