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Prop 59: Reversing Citizens United

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Updated at 2:00 PM on Nov. 9, 2016


Prop 59 has passed by a margin of 52.3% yes and 47.7% no. It asks California's state and federal lawmakers to use their authority to try and undo Citizens United, which is tied to the amount of money corporations can spend on political races.

What would Prop 59 do?

Prop 59’s ultimate goal is to reverse a controversial Supreme Court ruling made in 2010 -- the now famous Citizens United decision. It resulted in millions of dollars pouring into political battles.

Prop 59 asks voters whether California’s elected officials – in Sacramento and Washington -- should use their authority to try to overturn Citizen’s United. Overturning it would require passing a Constitutional Amendment, which is a very long and difficult process.  (More on that below.)

Note: Prop 59 is an advisory measure. It does not obligate lawmakers to do anything.

What is the Citizens United ruling?

In the Citizens United case the Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot limit the amount of money that corporations or organizations spend on political races or issues. Why? Because, the Court ruled, companies and non-profit groups have a right to free speech and it takes money to get your message out. By limiting their right to spend money you also limit their free speech rights.

This money, by the way, is separate from candidates’ campaign budgets, and is called “independent expenditures.” This ruling allows unlimited “independent expenditures” by corporations and the wealthy. 

Who is behind Prop 59 and what are the arguments in favor of it?

Prop 59 is sponsored by California Common Cause, a government watchdog group. It is supported by about twenty other organizations and more than a dozen democratic lawmakers.  Bernie Sanders and former U.S. Labor Secretary, Robert Reich also support Prop 59.

Prop 59 proponents say:

  • The huge increase in corporate money is corrupting democracy by drowning out the voices of voters, workers, consumers and small business owners.
  • Corporations and billionaires should not be allowed to buy our elections.
  • Corporations are not people and should not have the same free speech rights as human beings.
  • We need to send a message to our elected officials that we want to overturn Citizens United.

Who opposes Prop 59 and what are the arguments against it?

Two Republican elected officials are against Prop 59. They are California State Senator Jeff Stone from Temecula and Congressman K.H. Achadjian from San Luis Obipso.

Prop 59 opponents say:

  • Prop 59 is a pointless advisory vote. It carries no authority and only clogs up our ballot longer.
  • It’s a waste of tax dollars because it would not change the law.
  • Limiting expenditures by corporations would also limit the free speech of small businesses, churches, newspapers, TV networks, Facebook, Google and Twitter – all of which are incorporated.
  • Organizations like Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and the ACLU are incorporated. Do you really want their rights limited?
  • Instead of working to amend the Constitution we should be strengthening laws that require disclosure of political contributions.
  • Our lawmakers should spend their time on more important issues like education, infrastructure and crime.

Show me the money:

What does a “yes” or “no” vote mean?

A “yes” vote means you want the state and federal lawmakers from California to use their authority to try to undo Citizens United.

A “no” vote means things stay as they are

By the way, how do you pass a Constitutional Amendment?

There are two ways. Both are really difficult.

Route #1: An amendment can start in the U.S. Congress. Two-thirds of both houses must approve the proposed amendment. If they do, then the amendment must be ratified by ¾’s of the states.

Route #2:  An amendment can start with the states. Two-thirds of the states can call on Congress to hold a national convention to propose an amendment(s). If an amendment(s) is approved at the convention, then it goes back to the states. ¾’s of them have to ratify it.

In both cases the ratification process has to happen within seven years. If time runs out, the amendment is dead.

Little wonder there have been more than 11,000 proposed amendments to the Constitution. Only 27 passed. Ten of those in one batch -- The Bill of Rights.  

Click here for a cheat sheet on all the California ballot propositions.

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