The item that caught my eye in the recently passed California legislative resolution (AJR1) seeking an amendment to the U. S. constitution to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision is the clause that mentions ballot measures. The resolution is a call for a federal constitutional amendment to limit corporate campaign contributions yet there are no federal ballot measures.
Press releases from supporters of the effort to create a constitutional amendment, particularly the group that demonstrated in Sacramento when the resolution was considered, complain about money corrupting politics in the terms of corporate money, union money is never mentioned.
Could an offshoot of the effort to limit corporate money in politics constrain businesses’ ability to defend themselves on ballot initiatives?
Assemblyman Mike Gatto, the author of the resolution, told me that there is no hidden agenda to cripple businesses in connection to ballot measures. He said the ballot measures clause was added to the language in the resolution because 25 states have the initiative process in one form or another.
Gatto said his goal is to eliminate the corrupting influence of money in politics with a reasonable approach so as to restore faith in government. He expects this effort to be a bipartisan.
Depending how any amendment and its implementing legislation are written –a long shot to be sure – business must be wary.
If corporate money is the only side that is limited, the playing field would become truly uneven. In a study on California political donations released by the Fair Political Practices Commission covering the first decade of the 21st Century, of the top 15 political donors, six were corporations and two were unions. However, the unions had the top two places in the rankings. The California Teachers Association and the California State Council of Service Employees spent about $319 million, the six corporations about $323 million. To be fair, associations connected to business also spent over $150 million more and a couple of other unions appeared in the top 20 donors. Much of this spending was on ballot measures.
Gatto’s focus is on candidate campaigns. He offered the idea that a candidate who receives a certain to-be-determined donation must recuse himself or herself from voting on a measure that involves the interest of the donor, much like a judge recuses himself or herself from duty when a conflict arises in a case the judge is overseeing.
If such a proposal became law it could bring some interesting results – assuming it was across the board and covered both business and labor.
But such an approach would not work with ballot measures.
Any effort to limit campaign contributions that veer into the area of ballot initiatives could leave certain businesses and industries vulnerable to attack with little ability to defend themselves.