Unlike this year’s controversial “soda tax” measure, one city ballot measure has flown under the radar. Measure P expresses dissatisfaction with corporate personhood and campaign-finance laws in the United States in the hope of passing a Constitutional amendment to abolish corporate personhood.
The driving force behind the measure’s inclusion on the city ballot was CalPIRG’s “Reclaim Democracy” campaign. CalPIRG is a group that works to protect consumer and voter rights and has a chapter at UC Berkeley.
The measure was voted onto the ballot in June with revised language after being introduced earlier that month.
”Corporate personhood and money as speech has a severe impact on our daily lives,” said Murong Li, the chapter chair of CalPIRG at UC Berkeley. “It’s such a large issue that the Constitution has not really addressed.”
The Supreme Court’s controversial ruling on Citizens United in 2010 opened the door for corporations to make individual expenditures on political campaigns. Backers of the measure hope its passage will build momentum for the eventual passage of a Constitutional amendment reforming campaign-finance laws.
But Robert Cole, professor emeritus of law at UC Berkeley, criticized the measure’s language as “slapdash.”
“If they want to send a message to Washington that we want a Constitutional amendment about all the unregulated money in the system, I think it’s an understandable statement,” he said. “If the proposal was actually to put this language into the Constitution, I would certainly not want this language in the Constitution.”
Cole was dismissive of the bill’s second clause, which calls for the abolishment of “the doctrine that the expenditure of money may be treated as speech.”
“If you think about the FSM as one example,” Cole said, “you would not want to say that collecting, donating and spending are not entitled to First Amendment protection.”
He also raised the question of whether other entities, such as nonprofit corporations and unions, would be allowed to participate in the political process under the measure’s language. An effective amendment, Cole said, should outline a “substantive program” describing how campaigns should be financed and political expenditures regulated.
The California State Legislature originally included a similar ballot measure, but in August, the California Supreme Court removed the measure from the ballot.
Backers of the measure hope the passage of Measure P will eventually lead to the question reappearing on California’s state ballot and eventually on a national scale.
Joey Ward, UC Berkeley sophomore and campaign coordinator for CalPIRG’s “Reclaiming Democracy” campaign last year, is optimistic about Measure P’s success.
“I’d be surprised if it failed,” he said. “If there’s one thing you can do right now to increase your voice in our democratic system, it’s to vote yes on this measure.”