California’s Top Court Affirms Citizen Right to Advise Lawmakers

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  • Scott Swenson, Dale Eisman
Decision Opens Door to Initiative on a Constitutional Amendment Overturning Citizens United

California’s highest court has opened this election year with an important message to voters everywhere, affirming their right to advise their representatives in Washington on the importance of reducing the influence of big money in politics, Common Cause said today.

“Every person who stands for election knows that messages delivered on Election Day have a special resonance with elected officials. This decision allows Californians to add their voices and votes to those of the millions of other Americans who’ve already called on Congress to pass an amendment overturning Citizens United and affirming the right of every citizen to be heard in our elections,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause’s Senior Vice President.

“Today the California Supreme Court stood with We the People, upholding our state’s long tradition ‎of giving people the power to instruct our congressional members‎ and to act,” said Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause. “If democracy is about anything, it is about people, not money or wealthy special interests. Those who buy influence put democracy at risk and Americans across party lines are more certain than ever that the Supreme Court wrongly decided Citizens United, and that it must be overturned.”

Throughout the opinion, the court refers to the historical desire dating back to the framers, for legislatures to consult, “the fair and uninfluenced sense of the people” and to collect “the opinion of the public in some manner.” Referring to this quote, Hobert Flynn said, “In this decision the court not only understands the constitutionality of the people voting on Prop 49, but that the ultimate power of our government is vested in the people — and that gets directly to the question we have faced since the Citizens United ruling: Are we a democracy of, by, and for the people, or are we to be ruled by an elite, moneyed class, where the power of government rests in the hands of a few wealthy special interests?” 

Feng noted that California’s legislature is one of 16 across the country that have formally called on Congress to pass an amendment reining in the power of big money. Hundreds of thousands of Californians also have spoken in support of an amendment through local advisory referenda, she added, and with today’s decision the state legislature is free to put the issue before voters statewide in November.

A similar advisory referendum already is slated for November in Arkansas.

“Coast-to-coast, Americans are determined to break the hold of big money donors on our politics, from city hall and the county courthouse to the national capitol and the White House,” Hobert Flynn said.

“In Maine and Seattle last November, voters advanced plans to pay for future campaigns with a mix of small dollar donations from individuals and public matching funds,” she said. “Similar citizen initiatives are bubbling up across the country, as people learn more about the special access and influence big money donors, often giving in secret through tax-exempt “social welfare” groups, have gained with elected leaders.

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