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Legislature seeks voter sentiment on campaign cash

By From page A2 | July 01, 2014

SACRAMENTO (AP) — California voters could weigh in this fall on the growing influence of money in politics under a bill that advanced Monday.

The legislation calls for an advisory ballot measure asking if voters want an amendment to the U.S. Constitutional clamping down on corporate campaign giving.

The state Assembly approved SB 1272 on a party-line 49-22 vote, with Republicans in opposition. The bill is expected to pass the Senate with amendments and head to Gov. Jerry Brown.

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court gave a green light to unlimited corporate spending in elections in the case of Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission.

The ruling has been decried by Democrats for unleashing a torrent of spending enabling the wealthy to wield outsized influence in politics.

If signed by Brown, SB 1272 by Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, would place the advisory measure on the November ballot asking voters if they want a federal constitutional amendment overturning the Citizens United ruling.

The Assembly vote came after the Legislature petitioned Congress last week to hold a constitutional convention for such an amendment.

“While this Legislature is on record supporting an amendment, it’s time to let the people’s voice be heard,” Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, said as he presented the bill.

All amendments to the U.S. Constitution have been proposed with two-thirds votes in both houses of Congress. However, striking an agreement on campaign spending with supermajorities in the House and Senate is unlikely given the divided Congress and deep partisanship.

Another avenue for amendments is a convention that can be called if two-thirds of state legislatures ask Congress, though that has never happened.

California became the second state, after Vermont, to take that step last week when Senate lawmakers voted for AJR 1, which petitions for an amendment overturning the Citizens United ruling.

Former Assembly Speaker John Pérez, a Los Angeles Democrat who stepped down from the leadership post in May, voted for SB 1272 on Monday but questioned whether having a public vote is necessary given that lawmakers already took a substantive step toward proposing an amendment.

The movement faces long odds. Thirty-two other state legislatures need to sign on, including ones controlled by Republicans. Vermont passed such a resolution, and Illinois started considering one after Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Los Angeles, first introduced an amendment measure in 2012.

Gatto acknowledges an uphill battle but said states taking action also can pressure Congress to amend the Constitution. That was the case when Congress introduced the 21st amendment repealing the prohibition of alcoholic beverages in 1933, as state legislators were petitioning for a convention.

The Associated Press

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