Skip to main content

Proposition 59 – Advisory Measure – Citizens United Decision

Printer-friendly version

Official Title:

Campaign finance: voter instruction


Proposition 59 is an advisory measure regarding amending the United States Constitution to overturn the United States Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision, which dealt with campaign finance law.

In January 2010, the United States Supreme Court issued its ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) 558 U.S. 310, a case involving a nonprofit corporation (Citizens United) that sought to run television commercials promoting a film it produced that was critical of then-Senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.  Because federal law prohibited corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make expenditures for "electioneering communications" or for communications that expressly advocated the election or defeat of a candidate, Citizens United was concerned that the television commercials promoting its film could subject the corporation to criminal and civil penalties.  In its decision, the Supreme Court struck down the 63-year old law that prohibited corporations and unions from using their general treasury funds to make independent expenditures in federal elections, finding that the law unconstitutionally abridged the freedom of speech.

Proposition 59 is an advisory measure which asks voters to answer the following question:

"Shall California's elected officials use all of their constitutional authority, including, but not limited to, proposing and ratifying one or more amendments to the United States Constitution, to overturn Citizens United v. Federal Elections 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 corporations should not have the same constitutional rights as human beings?"

Proposition 59 had a complex legislative and legal history before it was placed on the ballot.

While existing state law explicitly authorizes cities, counties, school districts, community college districts, county boards of education, and special districts to place advisory questions on the ballot, there is no explicit authorization, nor is there a statutory prohibition, for statewide advisory questions. 

Although statewide advisory questions are uncommon, at least eight advisory questions have appeared on the statewide ballot in California's history.

Senate Bill 1272 (Lieu) of 2014 placed a question on the ballot at the November 2014 General Election that was similar to the question Proposition 59 presents to the voters.  However, in August 2014 the California Supreme Court ordered that Proposition 49 be removed from the ballot while it considered the question of whether the California Legislature had the authority to place advisory questions on the ballot.  That question was resolved earlier this year when the Supreme Court ruled in Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association v. Padilla (2016) 62 Cal. 4th 486, that the Legislature had the authority to place Proposition 49 on the ballot. 

Although the Supreme Court's decision concluded that the Legislature had the authority to place Proposition 49 on the ballot, the decision also noted that SB 1272 expressly provided for that question to be placed on the November 2014 ballot.  Since that election has already occurred, the Court decided that the Legislature would need to pass another bill if it wanted the advisory question to be considered by the voters at a different election.

Therefore, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 254 (Allen) earlier this year to place Proposition 59 on the November 2016 ballot.

Fiscal Impact:

This proposition would have no direct fiscal impact to the state as it is merely an advisory measure.

CCC Position:

No position


Supporters of Proposition 59 include State Senator Ben Allen, Money Out Voters In, and California Common Cause. 

Supporters argue that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC gave corporations the same “rights” as human beings and freed them to spend unlimited amounts of money in elections.  As a result, corporations and their wealthy owners are spending unprecedented amounts of money to tilt the outcomes of elections in their favor.  Supporters believe that corporations and billionaires should not have a greater voice in elections than California voters.   


Opponents of Proposition 59 include State Senator Jeff Stone and State Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian.

Opponents contend that this measure does nothing to increase disclosure of money being spent in politics.  Rather, it asks the California members of Congress to change the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees and protects important rights.  Opponents state that people should not lose their constitutional rights just because they choose to become involved in a company or organization that is incorporated. 

Reflections on Church Teaching:

"We need to participate for the common good. Sometimes we hear: a good Catholic is not interested in politics. This is not true: good Catholics immerse themselves in politics by offering the best of themselves so that the leader can govern."  Pope Francis, September 16, 2013.

“It is necessary that all participate, each according to his position and role, in promoting the common good. This obligation is inherent in the dignity of the human person. . . . As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1913-1915.

As a nation, we share many blessings and strengths, including a tradition of religious freedom and political participation. However, as a people, we face serious challenges that are both political and moral. This has always been so and as Catholics we are called to participate in public life in a manner consistent with the mission of our Lord, a mission that he has called us to share."  Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (November 2015).