Here's some news about two important efforts that would help involve more Americans in political life:
- a ballot initiative to revitalize government and direct democracy in California, and;
- a simple legislative means to rein in the unlimited corporate political spending enabled by the Citizens United decision.
- Performance-Based Budgeting
- Legislative Transparency and Oversight
- Community-Driven Problem Solving
- Multi-Year Budgets With Greater Accountability
Details on the California Governance and Accountability Act are available at the website of the California Forward Action Fund. To learn more about the Torrance Deliberative Poll, visit the website of the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University.
In its Citizens United decision of 2010, the Supreme Court acted to permit unlimited political spending by corporations. The quickly-felt impact of the decision has led to calls for a constitutional amendment and other steps, equally challenging, to undo Citizens United.
In a Huffington Post article, How Congress Can Overrule Citizens United, Bruce Ackerman and Ian Ayres illustrate a simpler path that Congress and the president can take: Follow the example of how Section Ten of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 impelled the Supreme Court to reverse its 1937 Breedlove decision, which had upheld the constitutionality of poll taxes.
The president should call on the House and Senate to take up Kennedy's invitation. Congress no longer needs to speculate on how "independent" Super PACs, controlled by each candidate's loyalists, might degrade our politics....The Congress should pass a law that puts the Court on notice of emerging realities. After formally finding the facts, the statute should grant the Attorney General standing to urge the judiciary to issue a declaratory judgment repudiating Citizens United in the light of changed conditions.
Congress has used this strategy before. Section Ten of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 took aim at the Breedlove case, in which the Supreme Court had squarely upheld the poll tax in federal elections. Section Ten responded by finding, after lengthy hearings, that the tax "imposes unreasonable financial hardship" and "precludes persons of limited means from voting." It then directed the Attorney General to urge the Justices to overrule Breedlove in the light of its factual findings. On signing the act, President Johnson followed through, announcing that "tomorrow at 1 p.m., the Attorney General has been directed to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the poll tax."
The strategy proved remarkably successful. While lower courts generally treat Supreme Court precedent as binding, the Justice Department used the Congressional findings to convince the courts of appeal to ignore Breedlove and declare the poll tax unconstitutional. The Supreme Court then dealt the final blow by declaring all poll taxes unconstitutional in its landmark decision of Harper v. Board of Elections. The Court announced its decision just as the Section Ten cases were reaching its docket. But its great turnaround cannot be understood without recognizing the role of Congress and the president in shifting the terms of the constitutional debate.
Thank you for your continuing interest in these and other important ways to involve more Americans in our political life.