A group of UC San Diego students and activists gathered Tuesday (January 21) to commemorate the four-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling and to renew demands for a constitutional amendment to reverse the decision that allowed corporate, union, and private dollars to flow unfettered into the political arena.
"Four years ago, [the ruling] effectively opened our elections to unprecedented levels of outside spending by special interest groups, thus contorting our democracy. As a result, well-funded special interests are able to dump unlimited amounts of money into campaigns, seizing control of our government," charged Aurash Gomroki, a UCSD junior majoring in political science and representing the campus chapter of CALPIRG. "This is not the American Dream our founding fathers worked so hard to create. This is a nightmare that we, in good conscience, cannot accept."
Gomroki went on to suggest solutions to the campaign finance conundrum, including encouraging corporate shareholders to demand less political spending and citizens to become more generally involved through smaller donations. Support was offered for California Senate Bill 52, which would require the disclosure of primary funding sources for political advertisements. Still, Gomroki said, a constitutional amendment was the only sure cure for "the greatest travesty of our time against democracy."
Andrew Buselt, president of UCSD Associated Student Government, also spoke in favor of reform, calling into question the students' perceived misguided financial incentives post-Citizens United.
"Just a few years back, our access to libraries was cut due to budgeting, but we still have 24-hour access to Burger King," Buslet observed.
Diane Lane, representing the local chapter of Money Out of Politics, claimed that in the last 12 months the number of sitting congressmen indicating that they would be amenable to a constitutional amendment blocking corporate campaign dollars had grown from 100 to 150. Sixteen states, including California, have passed nonbinding resolutions in support of such an amendment, and locally three cities (San Diego, Chula Vista, and Lemon Grove) have done the same.
Simon Mayeski of the "non-profit, non-partisan citizens' lobby organization" Common Cause, which claims credit for making the Koch brothers largely public figures, pointed to both liberal Democrat film producer Jeffrey Katzenberg and conservative Republican casino mogul Sheldon Adelson as individuals who had used so-called "Super PACs [political action committees]" to funnel far more money into recent campaigns than individual contribution limits would have otherwise allowed.
Congressman Scott Peters, whose 52nd district encompasses the UCSD campus, was also present to show support for campaign finance reform. Peters is a co-sponsor of House Joint Resolution 25, which proposes a constitutional amendment stating "Nothing in this Constitution shall prohibit Congress and the States from imposing content-neutral regulations and restrictions on the expenditure of funds for political activity by any corporation, limited liability company, or other corporate entity, including but not limited to contributions in support of, or in opposition to, a candidate for public office."
Such language would allow lawmakers to expand current contribution laws to include corporate entities currently exempted as a result of the Citizens United ruling.
"Elected officials spend a lot of time worrying about fundraising and politics, when they should be focusing on policy and issues important to their communities," Peters said. "My race last year was one of the most expensive in the country, with more outside spending from Super PACs than almost any other race nationally.
"Corporations are not people. There's nothing wrong with corporations; they're designed to make people money, but they're not people," Peters continued. "Our communities deserve to know who's funding what in this saturated market of attack ads."