Misunderstanding Citizens United in CA

California already had Citizens United rules.

Recently an acquaintance complained about the Citizens United (CU) decision in 2010 by the US Supreme Court that held governments may not prevent corporations or unions from engaging in political spending. When I pointed out that the CU decision had no impact on California state politics because the state operated under those rules before the CU decision, my friend disagreed. Unfortunately, his misunderstanding is common.

Below is a chart produced by the California Fair Political Practices Commission listing the largest political spenders in California from 2000 to 2009, the decade before the CU decision.

Top 15 political donors, 2000–2009. California Fair Political Practices Commission, March 2010

It was good business for those unions and corporations. For example, salaries and benefits collected by members of the two largest donors exceed $50 billion per year.

Few matters are discussed more than politics — yet fewer conversations are as uninformed. This leads to dangerous outcomes. For example, how many people know that despite seven years of bull markets and tax increases California has reduced the share of its budget allocated to universities, courts, parks and social services nearly in half in large part because of state legislators bowing to the demands of the donors listed above? Or that the San Francisco Unified School District will be able to allocate only 29 percent of its budget to teacher salaries this year for the same reason? Or that the state has doubled spending in favor of healthcare corporations, doctor and nurse associations and other cronies without evidence of a material improvement in the health of Californians? Or that state pension fund boards are choosing to put the pensions of local — but not state — employees at undue risk? And much more.

Democracies are not spectator sports. We all owe it to our democracy and our fellow citizens to be well and truthfully informed. If you don’t like what your government is doing, get seriously informed and then take serious action. There are plenty of ways to do so.

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