Assembly panel kills measure to overturn Citizens United
A key Assembly committee Tuesday killed a measure that would have lent California's voice to the national debate on Citizens United, the landmark Supreme Court decision that lifted the ban on direct corporate and union political spending and led to the creation of so-called "super PACs."
The resolution, AJR 32, would have urged Congress to call a constitutional convention to pass an amendment to limit "corporate personhood" and declare that money does not constitute free speech, effectively undermining two key aspects of the high court's ruling.
On Tuesday, staffers on the Assembly Judiciary Committee noted that the convention process has never been used in the nation's history to amend the Constitution, and lawmakers of both parties expressed concerns about a "runaway" convention, in which delegates would deviate from the purpose of the event and change other fundamental rights.
"You aren't focused and I don't see any limits," Assemblyman Donald Wagner (R-Irvine) told the measure's proponents.
Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake), the resolution's co-sponsor, said the worries were unfounded.
"In theory, they could put in there that they want a man on the moon to give us all green cheese. I have faith that they won't do that," he said.
Gatto added: "It’s a little odd to say the people have this power, but we’re a little worried they might exercise it. It’s extremely patronizing to say this committee has to shield the American people from itself."
The convention threshold is high. Two-thirds of the nation's state legislatures would have to pass similar resolutions to petition Congress.
In the two years since the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, big donors and moneyed special interests have assumed newfound influence. They can now raise unlimited sums as long as they do not coordinate with candidates or political parties.
The Assembly resolution failed, 3 to 5.
Another measure, which would simply call on Congress to propose an amendment, is working its way through policy committees.
-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento
Photo: The U.S. Supreme Court is illuminated on April 25, 2012, in Washington, D.C. Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images.