Although state law does not explicitly authorize advisory elections, the California legislature is poised to pass a bill calling a special election for this November for an advisory vote. SB 1272 (Lieu) would submit the following question to the voters:
“Shall the Congress of the United States propose, and the California Legislature ratify, an amendment or amendments to the United States Constitution to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) 558 U.S. 310, and other applicable judicial precedents, to allow the full regulation or limitation of campaign contributions and spending, to ensure that all citizens, regardless of wealth, may express their views to one another, and to make clear that the rights protected by the United States Constitution are the rights of natural persons only?”
Following the election, the Secretary of State would be required to communicate the results to the U.S. Congress.
The Treason of the Senate
Although a statewide advisory election seems unusual and unauthorized, there are some precedents. For example, Californians in 1892 approved an advisory measure with respect to the direct election of U.S. Senators. During that decade, the U.S. House of Representatives passed several resolutions calling for direct elections, but they all came to grief on the rock of Senate intransigence. At the turn of the century, William Randolph Hearst used his publishing empire to bring pressure on the Senate. Hearst reporter David Graham Phillips wrote a series of stories for Cosmopolitan magazine entitled “The Treason of the Senate” that castigated the appointed members of the upper house as tools of the rich and powerful. In 1912, the Senate relented and the 62nd Congress passed a resolution to amend the Constitution. The following year, William Jennings Bryan, as Secretary of State, issued this notification that three quarters of the states had ratified the amendment. A decade later, Mr. Hearst unsuccessfully sought the U.S. Senate nomination.
If SB 1272 is enacted, the legislature appears to believe that it will take effect immediately pursuant to Article IV, Section 8(c)(3) of the California Constitution. However, I’m not so sure. That section provides: “Statutes calling elections, statutes providing for tax levies or appropriations for the usual current expenses of the State, and urgency statutes shall go into effect immediately upon their enactment.” If no one is being elected, can it really be said that SB 1272 is calling an election?