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KCET Los Angeles
City News Service

The City Council preliminarily agreed today to ask Los Angeles voters in May to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution declaring that corporations are not people -- an effort to limit their ability to influence elections.

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.

Voters in Montana and Colorado overwhelmingly approved similar resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment, 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.

"In state after state, and city after city, voters are decisively voting in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and to unequivocally state that corporations are not people and do not deserve the constitutional rights that people are afforded," Alarcon said. "I'm pleased that Los Angeles voters now have the opportunity to join in this chorus, continue the momentum and to put pressure on the federal government to overturn the Citizens United decision."

Since the council's vote today was not unanimous -- Councilman Bernard Parks dissented -- the council will need to give final approval next week to placing the measure on the May 21 ballot.

Austin Price, field director with the California Public Interest Research Group, hailed the council's action.

"This gives citizens the opportunity to use the very tools of our democracy to reclaim it from the undue influence of big money," Price said.

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