By Christopher Cadelago and Jim Miller
ccadelago@sacbee.com
Published: Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014 – 12:00 am

The California Supreme Court on Monday effectively blocked a November advisory ballot measure on the merits of unlimited independent campaign spending, dashing some Democrats’ hopes that the measure would boost voter turnout in what could be an otherwise staid election.

Approved by the Legislature early last month and grudgingly allowed to go on the ballot by Gov. Jerry Brown, Proposition 49 would have asked California voters if Congress should overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United ruling in 2010. The legislation’s passage followed Capitol protests that triggered dozens of arrests.

But in siding with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, a 5-1 high court majority said it needs more time to consider whether the advisory measure can be placed on a California ballot.

“This is a very significant win,” Jon Coupal, the association’s president, said Monday. “The court is stepping up and doing what it needs to do to protect the integrity of the ballot.”

The U.S. Supreme Court four years ago held that free-speech protections allow unlimited independent campaign spending by corporations and labor unions. The ruling has energized campaign-finance reformers and others who believe that the political system is controlled by corrupting monied interests.

“It’s pretty chilling when the judicial branch cancels an election where the people are likely to vote against the judicial branch,” Derek Cressman, a spokesman for the “Money Out Voters In” campaign, said of Monday’s Proposition 49 decision. “It’s what we’ve come to expect from oligarchs in Russia, but not what we’d expect in our republic.”

In a concurring statement, Associate Justice Goodwin Liu said any California ballot measure “must take a distinctive form: it must take the form of law.”

“Our Constitution makes no provision for advisory questions because such polling of the electorate by the Legislature is in tension with the basic purpose of representative as opposed to direct democracy,” he wrote, adding that the constitution does not allow a “mix and match” approach of binding laws and advisory measures going before voters.

“If the Legislature wants to commission Gallup to do a poll on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) 558 U.S. 310 (Citizens United), I see no problem with that,” Liu wrote. “But there is a difference between doing that and doing what the Legislature has done here.”

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