Citizens United: California Supreme Court OKs advisory vote on campaign funding

File: A view of the Supreme Court, Jan. 16, 2015 in Washington, D.C.
File: A view of the Supreme Court, Jan. 16, 2015 in Washington, D.C.
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The California Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for a non-binding state ballot measure asking voters for their opinions on corporate donations in political campaigns.

The court upheld the legality of Proposition 49, a measure backed by the state Legislature that had been slated for the 2014 ballot.

It would have asked voters whether Congress should propose an amendment overturning a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United that lifted many restrictions on corporate spending in elections.

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association had challenged the legality of Proposition 49, calling it a glorified public opinion poll aimed at influencing voter turnout.

Rick Hasen, University of California, Irvine professor who studies election laws, told KPCC that Monday’s decision is more of a political statement than anything else. 

"The California Legislature doesn’t really need the advice of the voters on this issue,” he said. "This is a way that the California Legislature can get Democrats to the polls.”

Hasen added that while direct action resulting from Proposition 49 is unlikely, a vote of approval would add to public pressure on Congress to overturn the Citizens United ruling. 

"This is really about getting people who are really angry about Citizens United to come out and vote,” he said. 

In the high court ruling, justices wrote, "Long-standing historical practice among the states demonstrates a common understanding that legislatures may formally consult with and seek nonbinding input from their constituents on matters relevant to the federal constitutional amendment process."

The California Legislature had argued that by asking voters for their opinion, lawmakers were engaging in a practice that had been used widely at the local level. Lawmakers cited similar measures on a 1933 statewide ballot.

This story has been updated.