The Tuesday Count: California’s “Overturn Citizens United” Proposition 49 booted off the ballot by Supreme Court

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August 12, 2014

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Edited by Ryan Byrne

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140 measures for 2014

Lawsuits (News)
Hunting (Quick hits)

The ballot measure, the most common form of direct democracy in the United States, is a contentious mechanism, and often creates legal battles. An attempt by Democratic legislators to place an advisory question before Californians related to Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was shuttered on August 11, 2014, as the California Supreme Court booted Proposition 49 from the general election ballot in November. Opponents of Proposition 49 claim advisory questions are illegitimate since the point of a legislative referral isn't direct democracy, but to seek permission to authorize government action.[1] Secretary of State Debra Bowen (D) wanted for a judicial decision to be made by August 11, so the state wouldn't waste money or voters' time by placing the question in the state's voter guide.[2]

Michiganders, on the other hand, spent weeks trying to understand the confusing Proposal 1, which is now being challenged after it passed with over 69 percent of the vote on August 5. Warren Mayor Jim Fouts (I), one of the proposal's few vocal opponents, is contesting the measure's language, saying it was "blatantly unlawful and fraudulent" and "confusing."[3]

Meanwhile, legislators in both California and Michigan are debating two ballot measures which, depending on their actions, could turn into heated conflicts in the coming weeks. In California, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has criticized the Water Bond as being full of pork spending and earmarks. He has called on the legislature to craft a smaller bond measure to address California's drought woes.[4] A conflict between pro-wolf hunting and anti-wolf hunting ballot measures might come to an end this week, but not everyone is happy about that. The closure isn't expected to come due to a compromise, but due to an initiated state statute that would render the two anti-wolf hunting measures moot if the legislature approves it.[5]


Lawsuit in California

On August 11, 2014, the California Supreme Court ordered Secretary of State Debra Bowen (D) to remove Proposition 49, the Overturn Citizens United Act, from the November 4, 2014 ballot.[6] The court's 5 to 1 ruling came after the California Third District Court of Appeal tossed out the legal challenge on July 31, 2014.[7] The lawsuit, brought forward by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, isn't over yet, however. While essentially removing Proposition 49 from the 2014 ballot, the court will review the measure in the coming months. If they determine that it is constitutional, it will likely end up on the 2016 ballot.[8] The ruling was signed by Justices Goodwin Liu, Marvin Baxter, Ming Chin, Kathryn Mickle Werdegar and Carol Corrigan. Justice Liu said, "Our [state] 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 noted that advisory questions were illegitimate since the point of a legislative referral isn't direct democracy, but to seek permission to authorize government action. The lone dissenter was Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who agreed that the issue was murky, but didn't think that constituted removing the measure from the ballot. She said, "By the majority’s action the Legislature will be deprived of knowing in a timely manner where the voters stand on the issue, perhaps influencing what further steps the Legislature will take."[6]

Michele Sutter, chair of the Yes on 49 committee, responded to the court's actions, "It is unbelievable, in fact unbearable, that the Court would find that unlimited ‘money speech’ by artificial persons and corporations is the order of the day while actual speech by actual voters is to be outlawed."[6] Sen. Ted Lieu (D-28), who sponsored the measure in the legislature, said, "In effect, the California Supreme Court has now silenced the voters of California on a very important issue for this election."[9]

Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, stated, “We’re very pleased. We think the court recognizes ... that this is a substantively meaningless measure, designed to serve only one purpose and that is to clutter up the ballot box. The Legislature does indeed have broad legislative powers -– we certainly don’t contest that -– but putting a public opinion poll on the ballot is not part of that legislative power. It’s just not.”[10]

Lawsuit in Michigan

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2014 Count
Number: 140 measures
States: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Wyoming

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts (I) filed a lawsuit against Proposal 1 on August 8, 2014, three days after the proposal was approved by voters. Fouts said he would use his own money to overturn the measure. He claimed the ballot language was "blatantly unlawful and fraudulent," "confusing," "one-sided" and "prejudiced."[11] According to Fouts, Proposal 1 proponents used a "sales pitch" to garner votes. He took issue with phrases like, "helping small business grow and create jobs,” “modernize the tax system,” “police safety, fire protection and ambulance emergency services” and “aid to local school districts.” He said the proposal itself used positive phrases, rather than negative phrases, such as, "tax cuts for large manufacturers."[12] He continued, "I am defending the taxpayers from being hoodwinked. I think the overall, larger issue here is to protect the honesty and integrity of the ballot process by not allowing misleading or confusing language."[11]

Kelly Rossman-McKinney, a spokesperson for Citizens for Strong and Safe Communities, replied, "I would say the mayor has the prerogative to take any action he feels is appropriate, but the majority of his own constituents did vote in favor of Proposal 1 on Tuesday."[11] She also said that Fouts is "tilting at windmills. He’s definitely not in sync with his mayoral colleagues around the state, with his professional association or with the voters of Warren, who overwhelmingly supported Proposal 1."[13]

Mayor Fouts, in return, argued voters did not understand Proposal 1. He said, "[Voters] thought they were voting for police and fire [sic]. They did not know they were voting for a new tier of government. They did not know they were voting for a new tax. They did not know they were voting to take money away from their local government."[11]

Quick hits

  • Michigan Legislature to vote on pro-wolf hunting measure on August 12: The Michigan Legislature is expected to vote on the Natural Resources Commission Initiative, a pro-wolf hunting indirect initiated state statute, on August 12, 2014. If approved by the legislature, both anti-wolf hunting initiatives on the ballot would be rendered moot. In May 2013, the legislature changed the state law regarding game species, thus turning the Wolf Hunting Referendum into a veto referendum on a law that no longer existed. Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, who sponsored the wolf hunting referendum, decided to pursue a second veto referendum. The Natural Resources Commission Referendum was designed to overturn the new law, and was certified for the ballot on May 6, 2014. Supporters of the wolf hunt, nervous that voters might ban the hunt, started their own initiative. With the legislature planning to take up the initiative, Jill Fritz, director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, said, "[Legislators] don’t trust the voters to make the decision on whether wolves should be a game species or not. They’ve basically shown contempt for the intelligence of voters, the very voters who by the way voted them into office."[5] In December 2013, legislators approved a controversial indirect initiative, known as the Ban on Automatic Insurance Coverage of Abortion Initiative.
  • California legislators may replace water bond with a new one: Gov. Jerry Brown (D) called on the legislature to replace the Water Bond with a cheaper $6 billion bond on June 25, 2014.[14] Brown called the current water bond "a pork-laden water bond… with a price tag beyond what’s reasonable or affordable."[4] The legislature is currently debating a $7.2 billion bond to replace the $11.14 billion measure.[15] While legislators haven't been able to decide what will be in the new water bond just yet, they gave themselves a deadline on August 11 to come up with a fix by Friday.[16]
  • Humane Society President visits Maine to campaign for Question 1: Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society, spent August 10 in Portland, Maine to campaign for Question 1, also known as the Bear Hunting Ban Initiative. Pacelle has campaigned for multiple successful anti-baiting initiatives since 1992, including Colorado Initiative 10 (1992), Oregon Measure 18 (1994), Massachusetts Question 1 (1996) and Washington Initiative 655 (1996). In 2004, however, Mainers rejected the anti-baiting Question 2. Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting, the organization leading the campaign in support of Question 1, is almost entirely funded by the Humane Society. David Trahan, executive director of the Sportman’s Alliance of Maine, said Pacelle's visit to Portland illustrates that Question 1 proponents are "out of touch." He said, "They choose the one place in Maine where there is virtually no bear hunting." Nonetheless, most of the residents Parcelle talked with supported the question. He argued, "This is not about stopping bear hunting. It’s about making bear hunting more fair, more responsible, more humane."[17]


To read the most recent news on local ballot measures, see our local ballot measure news headlines.

See also

2014 ballot measures
Tuesday Count2014 Scorecard


  1. KQED, "‘Citizens United’ Measure Removed From California’s Fall Ballot," August 11, 2014
  2. The Fresno Bee, "Anti-tax group sues over Citizens United measure," July 22, 2014
  3. Detroit Free Press, "Warren mayor says he'll sue to repeal newly approved Proposal 1," August 7, 2014
  4. 4.0 4.1 KQED, "Brown Wades Into Water Bond Debate," August 6, 2014
  5. 5.0 5.1 The Detroit News, "Michigan lawmakers look to pass pro-wolf hunt bill," August 9, 2014
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 KQED, "‘Citizens United’ Measure Removed From California’s Fall Ballot," August 11, 2014
  7. The Sacramento Bee, "Calif. appeals court says Citizens United measure should stay on ballot," July 31, 2014
  8. The Sacramento Bee, "California campaign finance measure booted off ballot," August 12, 2014
  9. Los Angeles Times, "California Supreme Court blocks Citizens United measure from ballot," August 11, 2014
  10. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named lawtimes
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Macomb Daily, "Warren Mayor Fouts seeks to invalidate Proposal 1 vote," August 7, 2014
  12. Detroit Free Press, "Warren mayor says he'll sue to repeal newly approved Proposal 1," August 7, 2014
  13. MLive, "Warren mayor to sue over 'one-sided' ballot language on Michigan Proposal 1," August 8, 2014
  14. Los Angeles Times, "Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal intensifies water bond negotiations," June 25, 2014
  15. California Legislature, "Senate Bill 848," accessed August 11, 2014
  16. Fresno Bee, "California lawmakers float $7.195 billion water bond proposal," August 12, 2014
  17. Bangor Daily News, "Visit by U.S. humane society president brings national view to Maine’s bear baiting vote," August 12, 2014