This morning the California Supreme Court heard the oral arguments over whether to allow Prop 49 back on the ballot. Prop 49 is a voter instruction measure calling on our elected officials to overturn Citizens United and reduce the influence of big money in politics. CALPIRG actively lobbied for the passage of AB 1272 (Lieu) out of the legislature to authorize the ballot measure. When the measure was challenged, we joined Money Out, Voters In, Free Speech for the People, California Common Cause, the Courage Campaign, and the California Clean Money campaign on an amicus brief to the court, outlining the evidence that the framers of the California constitutional convention were intentional about including a right to voter instruction measures such as Prop 49.
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye has already made clear that she believes the ballot measure is constitutional: "I do not see such a clear showing that the Legislature lacks authority to place the measure before the voters, warranting this court taking the extraordinary step of removing the measure from the ballot, thereby disenfranchising the voters," she wrote.
And Scott Herhold at the San Jose Mercury News wrote: "Democracy, particularly direct democracy, is inherently messy. As long ago as 1849, at the first California Constitutional Convention in Monterey, the delegates provided for the right of the people to "instruct" their representatives. In 1891, the Legislature even asked the voters whether U.S. senators should be elected directly rather than being appointed by lawmakers. (That did not occur until the 17th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed in 1913.) Few underlying issues about campaigns are more important than the unlimited spending by corporations and labor unions ushered in by the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling."
Here are my remarks from the rally this morning in front of the court:
"Billions in campaign contributions from megadonors and corporations have too much say over who can run for and win elected office in this country. As 2016 presidential candidates compete for cash, the influence of megadonors is on full display. The upcoming election will likely break all previous campaign spending records.
But more important than the amount of money spent is where that money is coming from and who is giving it. Fewer than 400 families are responsible for almost half of the total money raised so far in the 2016 presidential race. The 67 biggest donors, giving at least $1 million each, contributed more than three times as much as the 508,000 smallest donors combined.
By putting Prop 49 back on the ballot, the California Supreme Court would give Californians a chance to instruct their representatives to act against this grave threat to our democracy.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Imagine what our democracy would look like if candidates had to focus on raising money from and appealing to the actual population they seek to represent, instead of wealthy campaign donors. The candidates running for office would be different. Their campaigns would be different. And their policy decisions could be informed solely by what they believe is in the best interest of their constituents.
So today we stand here, united in our concern that to have a democracy of, by and for the people, we have to get big money out of politics. We need appropriate limits on what any individual can spend on political campaigns and we need to get corporate money out of elections entirely. Our elected officials are not going to act unless we demand action from them. Thus it is appropriate and important to put Prop 49 back on the ballot and give the voters a right to vote this issue so fundamental to our democracy."