ASUCR unanimously passed a resolution Feb. 6 that condemned the ruling in the Citizens United Supreme Court case. Senators welcomed passage of the resolution, hoping to mobilize other UC campuses to follow suit and support greater transparency within campaign financing.
The 2010 ruling allows unions and corporations the right to donate an unrestricted amount of money for the sole purpose of purchasing political advertisement. Under the doctrine of “corporate personhood,” associations of people are granted the legal right to spend as a form of political speech protected under the First Amendment.
The ASUCR resolution was spearheaded by California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG). Members of the organization filled the chambers as they waited in anticipation for the senate’s decision. UC Riverside is one of the earliest campuses to support such a measure on a systemwide level.
CALPIRG first channeled its efforts at UC Berkeley, making it the first campus to pass the resolution. This was followed by UC Riverside and UC Santa Barbara who successfully passed the resolution on the same night. ASUCR senators Kristina Morelos and Aaron Johnson expressed initial support for the resolution, due to their political involvement in the “Get Out the Vote” initiative, leading up to the November election in 2012.
A grassroots student-funded advocacy group, CALPIRG lobbies for issues that they deem most relevant to the general public. Members of CALPIRG hope to rally the Riverside city council into supporting the initiative. They have long-term goals of pushing through a U.S. constitutional amendment, which will set limits on campaign spending.
“There’s no reason that corporate campaign spending finance from 2008 to 2012 should have risen 400 percent,” Michael-Paige Hamby said as an advocate of Reform Democracy, a coalition of CALPIRG.
At the local level, Los Angeles City Council successfully motioned to draft a Citizens United measure on Jan. 29 with a 13-1 vote. Sponsored by LA Councilmember Richard Alarcon, the resolution will be placed on the mayoral ballot in May. If passed, LA will be one of the biggest cities to pass a non-binding resolution in support of a constitutional amendment.
City councils can develop legislative agendas that are centered on addressing problems at the local level. They may rally for support from the state legislature and Congress to tackle these issues.
In the 2010 ruling, U.S. Supreme Court Justices reasoned that independent expenditures made by a corporation or union were equivalent to those made through individual donations. Therefore, the creation of spending limits was a restriction on the right to free speech.
“The First Amendment protects political speech; and disclosure permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way,” stated Justice Anthony Kennedy in an opinion about the 2010 ruling. “This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”
Critics contend that the ruling allows corporations and unions an unfair advantage, in terms of influencing the political decision-making process. Political candidates and organizations contributed about $7 billion into the U.S. presidential election in 2012, making it the most expensive political campaign season in history. There was also an increase in non-political spending by nonprofit organizations such as political action committees (PACs).
PACs are tax-exempt organizations that are not required to reveal their list of donors, while super PACs are able to accept donations from other businesses and PACs. The U.S. Supreme Court is expecting to hear a challenge on the constitutionality of the ban on corporate contributions to federal candidates on Feb. 13.
ASUCR External Affairs Director Lazaro Cardenas felt the ruling diminished the importance of student voices that mobilized to help pass state measures such Prop 30 last year.
“The precinct near to UCR is one of the highest precincts that came out in voting for Mayor Rusty Bailey and the students really have the political voice at the local level,” said Cardenas. “For me, we demonstrate all of this student power that we had, but it’s still kind of like a prick on the back because we’re doing all of this, however we’re still behind billions of dollars that corporations can push forth.”