Corporate Money in Elections: Will L.A. Voters Take a Stand?

Annabel Park, Co-founder of the Coffee Party, speaks during a protest about the Citizens United case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in February 2012. | Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The City Council agreed today to ask Los Angeles voters to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution declaring that corporations are not people.

The measure sponsored by City Councilman Richard Alarcon and supported by campaign finance reform groups is a response to the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 decision in the case Citizens United v. FEC. The court ruled 5-4 that corporations have the same rights as individuals to use money as a form of political speech. The ruling effectively allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns.

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Voters in Massachusetts, Montana, and Colorado overwhelmingly approved similar resolutions, as did voters in San Francisco and Chicago, according to Alarcon. The Los Angeles City Council in December 2011 approved a resolution sponsored by Councilman Eric Garcetti, putting the city on record opposing the Citizens United decision.

The resolution is non-binding, but Alarcon said it would send a message to politicians in Washington, D.C., that there is a desire to reverse the Supreme Court's decision.

"The bottom line is that the Supreme Court killed our democracy in 2010. They replaced it with a 'corporatocracy,"' Alarcon said.

"(Corporations) should not be allowed to buy elections. They should not be allowed to take the place of the people's vote, and that's exactly what the decision in Citizens United did," he said. "I believe we cannot let the corporate agenda replace the people's agenda."

The council vote instructs the City Attorney's Office to draft ballot language asking voters whether to affirm that corporations are not people and to support a constitutional amendment stating as much. The full council has until the end of the month to approve the final language and place the measure on the May 21 citywide general election ballot.

Dozens of activists who support limiting spending on elections came out to support the measure.

"Unlimited corporate, money continues to undermine the principle of 'one person, one vote,"' said Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause. "The sheer number of Los Angeles voters who could vote on this issue -- more than in the entire 2012 election -- would really boost the national movement to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn this damaging Supreme Court case."

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