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Los Angeles City Elections 2013

Corporate money in politics: Liberals vs. liberals on Prop. C

May 17, 2013|By Michael McGough
  • Erwin Chemerinsky is dean of the UC Irvine School of Law and a prominent liberal legal scholar.
Erwin Chemerinsky is dean of the UC Irvine School of Law and a prominent liberal… (Los Angeles Times )

The Times editorial board offended some liberal readers when it urged a no vote on Proposition C, which asks voters in the city of Los Angeles to “instruct” local members of Congress to support a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. One commenter asked: “Did the Koch Bros already buy the Times and I missed it?”

As our editorial noted, The Times was critical of Citizens United when it was handed down. But we raised several objections to Proposition C: It wouldn’t be binding; it was “vague and question-begging” and didn’t provide the actual text of a proposed constitutional amendment; and its sweeping assertion that corporations "do not have the constitutional rights of human beings” could be interpreted to say that corporations could be stripped of constitutional protections that have nothing to do with political speech – such as the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

All in all, the editorial said Proposition C was a “primal scream about the role of corporate (and other) money in politics” that would send a muddled message to the members of Congress it purportedly was instructing.

The Times may be right or wrong on Proposition C -- voters will have the final say on May 21 -- but we’re not alone in seeing problems with the measure.

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law and a prominent liberal legal scholar, had this reaction when the Huffington Post asked him about Proposition C: "Corporations clearly have -- and should have -- constitutional rights. Taking of property by the government, for example, triggers constitutional protections including from a corporation."

Chemerinsky added:  “There are many things legislatures -- Congress, state legislatures, city councils -- could do to reduce the effects of Citizens United. I think the effort to amend the Constitution diverts focus and energy from the possible legislative changes."

Chemerinsky told me that, “if asked, I would recommend a no vote. I think Citizens United was terribly wrong, but I do not think pursuing a constitutional amendment to overturn it is the best strategy.”  That’s the advice not of the Koch brothers but of a prominent progressive constitutional scholar. Voters should take it into account before they decide whether to let loose with that primal scream.

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