Anti-tax group sues to kick Citizens United advisory measure off ballot

Anti-tax group sues to kick Citizens United advisory measure off ballot
Activists gather in the Assembly chambers in June 2014 to show their support for a bill placing a nonbinding advisory measure about Citizens United on the ballot. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., an anti-tax group, filed a lawsuit Tuesday to block a non-binding advisory measure on Citizens United from appearing on the November ballot.

The taxpayer group said the measure, which would ask Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution to overturn the landmark 2010 campaign finance decision, is an "illegitimate exercise of legislative power."


The measure, which will appear on the ballot as Proposition 49, will have no legal effect even if approved by the voters.

Jon Coupal, president of the group, said lawmakers do not have the authority to use "legislative power for a public opinion poll."

He cited a 1984 case where an initiative calling for a federal balanced budget constitutional amendment was removed from the ballot, in part, the court said, because the measure would not have changed state law.

"If the people can't do it, certainly the Legislature can't do it, either," Coupal said.

The measure, SB 1272, made the ballot last week, when Gov. Jerry Brown allowed it to become law without his signature. Brown said he shared concerns about the Citizens United ruling – which lifted limits on political spending for individuals and corporations – but said he was uneasy about lawmakers placing advisory questions on the ballot, as voters may incorrectly believe the measure is legally binding.

Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Los Angeles), author of the measure, said he heard no concerns about the measure's legality from legislative counsel or the governor's staff as his bill made its way through the Legislature.

He said the taxpayer group's action "shows that they are very scared of what the result of Proposition 49 will be – that an overwhelming majority of voters are going to express their belief that Citizens United should be overturned."

Republicans, who opposed Lieu's bill, said the measure is an effort to boost turnout among Democrats' liberal base.

"Democrats are using the people's house to play political games again," said Assembly GOP leader Connie Conway (R-Tulare), characterizing the measure as "an opinion poll at taxpayer expense."

Jessica Levinson, a professor of election law at Loyola Law School, said the Howard Jarvis group complaint conveys displeasure with the substance of the measure, as much as it expresses procedural concerns.

"It's a suit about a California ballot measure – of course it's going to be as much as about politics as it is about the law," she said.

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