Eric Tomb: Prop 59 — get back our government
November 4, 2016
Are you sick of all these ballot propositions? Tired of all the money in politics? Fed up with TV ad after internet ad after radio ad after newspaper ad, almost all of them paid for by mysterious political action committees?
Well, there may be hope. We may have found a way to fight back. The only trouble is that it's hidden among those ballot propositions that we think we hate. It's a funny case of fighting fire with fire.
Proposition 59 is very simple, very straightforward and could be very effective. It asks California voters to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would have two effects: it would state clearly and definitively that the rights the Constitution grants to people apply only to people and not to corporations and it would state that the American people can regulate how much money can be donated in election campaigns.
These seem like no-brainers. Who in their right mind would confuse corporations with actual living breathing human people? And who in their right mind would support the idea that wealthy corporations can spend humongous amounts of money to influence elections?
The answer, unfortunately, is the United States Supreme Court. Starting nearly 200 years ago when only wealthy white men were allowed to vote, the Supreme Court has bit by bit granted corporations the same rights as flesh and blood people. They called corporate personhood a "legal fiction," then conveniently forgot the fiction part and kept on granting the legal rights. As it stands right now the Environmental Protection Agency can't inspect a polluting corporation without a warrant because it would violate its Fourth Amendment rights.
The worst of these Supreme Court decisions was the Citizens United case of 2010. Going way beyond what the plaintiffs requested, the Supreme Court ruled that any restriction on how corporations could pay for political advertising violated their first amendment rights. You and I have always been free to say whatever we wanted. Now corporations are free to pay whatever they want to whatever politicians they want.
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Eighty percent of American voters disapprove of the Citizens United decision. Right now, however, there's very little they can do. They can urge Congress to restrict corporate spending — but Congress has done that many times in the last 50 years and the Supreme Court has consistently overruled those restrictions. The only way to overturn a Supreme Court decision is with a constitutional amendment.
Proposition 59 won't be that amendment. The Constitution was intentionally written to make amending it a slow and deliberate process: it took nearly 80 years for women to get the right to vote. What Prop 59 will do is let Congress — and the world — know that California voters want an amendment to overturn Citizens United. We want to put corporations in their rightful place and we want our real human citizens to regain their right to decide who spends money in our elections.
Proposition 59 is our best chance to take back our government. It's your vote.
Eric Tomb lives in Nevada City.
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