Calif. lawmakers vote to overturn Citizens United

Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers waded into the ongoing battle over corporate money in politics Thursday with a resolution that supports overturning the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case, which has led to a flood of money from deep-pocketed donors in this year's presidential race.

"People are tired of getting beat up by a few corporations that sometimes have a fringe point of view," said Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, who introduced the resolution with Assemblymen Michael Allen, D- Santa Rosa.

The Assembly passed the resolution on a 48-22 vote. It rejects the notion of corporate personhood and calls on Congress to pursue a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the 2010 decision saying corporations can spend unlimited sums to influence elections.

Democrats said the resolution is an important first step toward overturning the ruling that granted "personhood" rights to corporations, which they say has made it harder for ordinary citizens to have a voice in the political process.

The New Mexico and Hawaii legislatures have passed similar resolutions with the support of the groups Public Citizen and Common Cause.

Several Republican lawmakers spoke against the resolution, saying corporations have a right to influence elections because they are subject to government regulations. They echoed the Supreme Court's ruling that political contributions are a form of speech.

"What is a corporation? It's an assembly of people," said Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks. "And doesn't the first amendment say that we have a right to lawfully assembly and seek redress from out government for our grievances?"

Republicans also argued that the state has no business weighing in on the federal issue.

"Rather than criticize a Supreme Court decision over which we have no control, I think we ought to concentrate on what we can do as a Legislature," said Chris Norby, R-Fullerton.

Democrats acknowledged that a constitutional amendment process would take years, but emphasized the importance of joining with other states to demand a limit on corporate spending.

"I see the resolution as the beginning of a long and arduous process," Allen said. "The discussion has to start somewhere."

The Citizens United decision has rewritten the rules of campaign donations for individuals as well as corporations. An Associated Press review found that more than half of the $60 million collected so far by independently run political action committees supporting presidential candidates, the so-called "super PACs, came from 24 wealthy Americans.

Opponents of the ruling are pursuing a ballot initiative that would reject the notion of corporate personhood in California. Proponents of the "Corporations Are Not People Act" could not be reached for comment.

In the northern California town of Arcata, residents are gathering signatures for a symbolic "Corps Ain't Peeps" initiative.

Another measure, which has already been approved for the November ballot, would prohibit corporations and unions from donating to state and local campaigns. The "Stop Special Interest Money Now" initiative bills itself as a campaign finance reform measure, but critics say it actually aims to hobble organized labor.

The initiative would stop unions from deducting money from members' paychecks for political activity.

The Assembly resolution has been passed to the Senate, where it is expected to be heard in the coming weeks.

Allen and Wieckowski, along with Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, also have introduced a resolution that would formally apply to Congress for a constitutional convention to address the issue of corporate personhood.

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