Eric Tomb: Senators, listen to your constituents
October 3, 2017
Regular as clockwork, there's a California election in June and November every even-numbered year. Each of these elections usually includes a dozen or so propositions, some set up by the legislature, some by citizen-sponsored petitions, some by corporations who have the money to pay for petition-drives.
Regular as clockwork, the voters approve about half of these propositions and then wait for them to take effect. Well, maybe not. The advertising money spent to promote or defeat the propositions is usually so massive that it seems that the fate of the universe hinges on the vote. The day after the election, most people calculate whether they'll have to pay more taxes or get more benefits and then pretty much forget what all the fuss was about. The professional politicians often forget as well.
Look at Proposition 59, which passed last November with a 53 percent to 47 percent majority. It asked the state's elected officials (including California's congressional delegation) to support a constitutional amendment overturning the U.S. Supreme Court's 2011 Citizens United decision, which claimed that campaign contributions were a form of "free speech" and implied the corporations that made those contributions had the same rights as individual humans. The decision invalidated decades of laws restricting campaign contributions and led to the billion-dollar election campaigns we now have to endure.
Starting in 2013, members of the House of Representatives introduced a constitutional amendment declaring that spending money is not the same as free speech and that corporations do not have the same rights as real people. By the latest session of Congress, the amendment had over 40 co-sponsors. The representatives held to the same common-sense principles as the people of California who approved Prop 59. Unless you're a very well-compensated lobbyist, it's very hard to believe that we should turn our elections over to the people — or more likely corporations — who have the most money to invest.
The voters of California gave them a pretty decisive message. Are they afraid of alienating potential corporate donors?
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But so far no senators have sponsored the amendment. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris are both Democrats in what has become a reliably blue state. They both claim to support wide voter participation in elections. They both claim to oppose the influence of money in elections. Are they too busy with other issues to pay attention to the clear mandate from the voters in their state? Or are they afraid of something?
Are they afraid of getting too far ahead of the voters? The voters of California gave them a pretty decisive message. Are they afraid of alienating potential corporate donors? The voters of California asked them to renounce corporate donors. Are they afraid of disrupting the delicate balance of the national Democratic party? The voters of California asked them to pay attention to all their constituents and not just to their party.
Maybe they think they are just too busy with other issues. If that's the case, we need to remind them that the voters of California all have to make a living, all have to take care of their families, all have to deal with local laws and regulations and still somehow manage to make it clear that they're strongly opposed to treating corporations like people and treating their money like free speech.
Enough of that. We passed a proposition requesting our elected officials to support a very simple, very sensible constitutional amendment. Now we have to turn that request into a demand.
You can send a copy of this column to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. You can call Senator Feinstein at 202-224-3841, Senator Harris at 202-224-3553. If you're really determined, try contacting Rep. Doug LaMalfa at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-225-3076 (though he has stated publicly that he will not vote for the amendment even though a majority of Californians favor it).
Eric Tomb lives in Nevada City.