Lawmakers Focus on the Frivolous

Given California’s many serious problems including high unemployment a listless economy and drought one might think our Sacramento politicians would not have time on their hands to promote laws that have no force or effect in California. One might also think it unwise at a time when our state is surviving on temporary tax increases (Proposition 30) to spend millions to place such a pointless law on the statewide ballot. One would think that state lawmakers would have more sense than to waste time and money on such legislation but they would be wrong.

The California Legislature recently approved Senate Bill 1272 which would submit to California voters an “advisory” ballot proposition advocating a change to the U.S. Constitution that is intended to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC which held that the First Amendment prohibits government from restricting political independent expenditures by associations corporations and labor unions.
That SB 1272 is poorly drafted is gross understatement. It dramatically oversimplifies a complex and nuanced area of constitutional law.

Article V of the United States Constitution establishes the exclusive procedures for proposing constitutional amendments. The first method requires a proposed amendment to be passed by two-thirds votes in both houses of Congress. The second requires an application from two-thirds of the state legislatures requesting a constitutional convention. Amendments proposed by either method are then submitted to the states for ratification. Because SB 1272 follows neither procedure it is of no legal consequence whatsoever. It is no more legally binding than a Gallup poll.

The Legislature is abusing the statewide ballot process to conduct polling research in regards to proposed Congressional action. And as far as opinion polling goes SB 1272 is a particularly expensive vehicle. According to the Senate Appropriations committee ballot printing and mailing costs are $55000 per page and will likely total $275000 to $550000 if this proposition appears on the general ballot. If it appears on a supplemental ballot the total printing and mailing costs could run as high as $4 million. These figures do not begin to account for the additional costs borne by the county registrars’ offices for the processing and tallying of ballots.

Finally SB 1272 presents a facile unsophisticated solution to a complex problem. Reasonable minds can (and often do) disagree on the issues involved in Citizens United such as the appropriate balance between free speech rights and the need to combat political corruption. But SB 1272 goes far beyond addressing these issues; it urges Congress to propose a constitutional amendment that “make[s] clear that the rights protected by the United States Constitution are the rights of natural persons only.”

Were this the law churches synagogues mosques and other religious entities would have no free exercise rights. Neither the Wall Street Journal nor CBS News would have any freedoms of speech or the press. Advocacy groups like the NRA chambers of commerce and taxpayer associations would have no right to speak or to petition the government for redress of grievances. And no collective entity be it a corporation or partnership business or nonprofit a Fortune 50 company or a local mom and pop shop would enjoy property rights of any kind. There would be no requirement that government takings from entities other than individuals be justly compensated or that regulation comport with due process. SB 1272 would not merely throw the baby out with the bath water it would burn down the entire neighborhood — a neighborhood that took centuries to construct.

It is safe to assume that the Legislature did not intend to ask the voters whether Congress should propose a constitutional amendment that would permit the government to search the headquarters of the ACLU the National Right to Life Committee or the NAACP arbitrarily and without a warrant or to seize without compensation all the property owned by the Catholic church or to quarter soldiers in rental units owned by corporate landlords. Then again if a majority of California legislators failed to appreciate the subtleties of this issue is it reasonable to expect voters to be better informed?

SB 1272 is a pointless poorly drafted proposition that is likely to mislead many voters. As such it is a waste of the voters’ time and the taxpayers’ money. Californians can send a powerful message to our irresponsible legislature by voting No on this meaningless measure. And for once this is not a liberal v. conservative issue — it is a matter of common sense and responsible governance.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.