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Assembly OKs anti-Citizens United resolution

The state Assembly voted 48-22 today to urge Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution as a means of overturning a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that unleashed a deluge of unlimited political spending by corporations and unions.

If the state Senate passes it as well, Assembly Joint Resolution 22, co-authored by Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, and Assemblyman Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa, will put California amid a national grassroots movement. Hawaii and New Mexico have passed similar resolutions, as have more than 100 cities across the nation including Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond and Fairfax.

Today’s vote was along straight party lines, with all the ayes from Democrats and all the nays from Republicans; 10 members were absent or not voting.

Bob Wieckowski“The Citizens United decision is judicial activism run amuck,” Wieckowski said in a news release. “For more than a century, Congress and the Supreme Court have recognized the need to differentiate between people and the vast amount of wealth at the disposal of large corporations. The floodgates were opened by this ruling and now a small number of very wealthy interests are having a greater influence on our national politics than ever before.”

The Supreme Court’s holding that the First Amendment bars the government from restricting political spending by corporations and unions led to the creation of the “Super PACs” – often funded by a just few wealthy donors – that now essentially serve as shadow campaigns for the presidential candidates, but without any fundraising limits.

Groups including Public Citizen, Common Cause, the California Public Interest Research Project (CalPIRG), California Church Impact, California Labor Federation, California Nurses Association, California Professional Firefighters and the California League of Conservation Voters support AJR 22.

Jonah Minkoff-Zern, senior organizer with Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People campaign, said this movement has percolated up from the streets. “It is because of the work of dedicated activists throughout the state that California’s elected officials are joining them in taking a stand to say that democracy is for people, not for corporations.”

Public Citizen helped lead the introduction of similar resolutions in Massachusetts, Vermont and Maryland, and has supported activists’ and lawmakers’ efforts to introduce similar resolutions in Alaska, Iowa, Kansas and New York.

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DISCLOSE Act blocked in Senate

A campaign-finance disclosure bill meant to close the spending floodgates opened by the U.S. Supreme Court in January’s Citizens United ruling was blocked today in the U.S. Senate, bringing joyful statements from some extremely strange bedfellows.

The Senate voted 57-41 on the motion to invoke cloture on the Democracy is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act; 60 votes were needed to end debate on the bill and bring it to a vote. Both of California’s senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, voted for cloture; no Republicans did so; and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was the lone Democrat voting “no,” a parliamentary maneuver that lets him revive the bill some other time if he thinks he has the votes. The House passed its version of the DISCLOSE Act in June.

The American Civil Liberties Union says it supports the disclosure of large contributions to candidates as long as that disclosure doesn’t chill political participation; it had urged senators to oppose DISCLOSE Act.

“The DISCLOSE Act would not improve the integrity of political campaigns in any substantial way but would significantly harm the speech and associational rights of Americans,” Laura Murphy, the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office director, said in a news release. “We can only truly bring positive change to our elections if we continue to respect our cherished free speech rights and, unfortunately, the DISCLOSE Act does not do that. We commend the Senate for rejecting this well-intentioned but overly broad legislation.”

Michael Macleod-Ball, the ACLU Chief Legislative and Policy Counsel, said small donors to small organizations risk losing anonymity under the bill while larger, mainstream organizations would be exempt from donor disclosure – a further distortion of campaign finance fairness.

Way over on the right, Americans for Limited Government celebrated the bill’s blockage too.

“The so-called DISCLOSE Act imposes arduous regulations on corporations and non-profits and is explicitly designed to intimidate dissent, all in violation of the First Amendment. Senate Republicans deserve the praise of all freedom-loving Americans who believe that free, unrestricted political speech is a basic and fundamental right under the Constitution,” ALG President Bill Wilson said in his news release. “This is intended to intimidate certain groups and individuals from saying anything at all and into giving up their First Amendment rights. It’s a cynical gag order.”

Open government and consumer advocacy groups such as Common Cause and Public Citizen had strongly supported the bill as a bulwark against the tsunami of money expected to flood this year’s general election season; for it to take effect in time, the Senate would have had to approve it before the August recess.

UPDATE @ 2:09 P.M.: Add the League of Women Voters to groups aggrieved by the DISCLOSE Act’s blockage.

“It is sad to see Senators cling to partisanship and obstructionism once again, instead of working together to find a middle ground on the DISCLOSE Act,” League national president Elisabeth MacNamara said in a news release. “This is a failure for which voters will have to pay this November when corporate and other special interests use secret money to influence our elections.”

“Opponents of the DISCLOSE Act have put forth various criticisms — some true and others based on misinterpretations — justifying their obstruction. But the bottom line is that voters deserve to know who is paying for election advertising. This is not only common sense — it is crucial if voters are to remain the cornerstone of our democracy,” she added. “We would like to know what these opponents have to fear from disclosure of election advertising. Furthermore, what is to prevent them from falling victim to the deceitful advertising which they are refusing to regulate?”