ASUC senate votes to place First Amendment issue on spring ballot

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The ASUC Senate voted to place a referendum on the spring 2013 ballot asking students if they support overturning the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision that held that the First Amendment prohibited restrictions on independent political expenditures by corporations and unions.

If a majority of voters support this proposition, then the ASUC president and Graduate Assembly president will give written notice to the United States president and California’s congressional delegation every year until Congress has passed and California’s Legislature has ratified an amendment reversing the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.

The amendment includes stating that human beings, and not corporations, are entitled to free speech rights. It also aims to establish that money is not speech and that therefore regulating political contributions is not equivalent to limiting political speech.

“There should be a level playing field in campaign spending that allows all individuals, regardless of wealth, to express their views to one another and their government,” the bill states.

According to ASUC Senator Jorge Pacheco, the 2010 Citizens United ruling opened the door for super PACs to pour unlimited amounts of money from corporations, unions or individuals into political campaigns.

The student government previously passed a bill in the fall of 2012 condemning the Supreme Court ruling.

“We are taking it to the next level and (asking) the student body of the world’s number one public university to join this national movement,” said Pacheco in an email.

On March 13, the measure passed easily in the senate, with 18 senators voting to place the referendum on the ballot. While no senators voted against the referendum, some voiced concerns over the language of the bill.

ASUC Senator Mihir Deo — while against the Citizens United ruling — said that he had many reservations about the language of the bill and the idea that this issue should be placed on the ballot.

“The real issue here is that corporations can use unlimited amounts of money under the purview of the First amendment because they equate money to speech,” Deo said in an email. He said that this does not mean that all free speech rights of corporations should be removed.

“My vote was whether or not it had a right to be on the ballot, not my opinion on the referendum itself,” Deo said.

Another senator, Jeff Ma, abstained from voting on the referendum.

Berkeley Rootstrikers and Berkeley Common Cause — two groups advocating for the passage of this referendum — stated in a March 20 press release that they will launch an educational campaign to inform the students about the initiative and its relevance to student life and democracy.

The ASUC elections will be held April 9, 10 and 11.

Contact Chloe Hunt at [email protected].