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January 17, 2012 at 11:32 AM

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Washington could take advisory vote on Citizens United

Washington is among the states that could be asked to take an advisory vote aimed at building support for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's controversial Citizens United ruling.

The 2010 decision knocked down restrictions on corporate and union spending in elections. That's led to the sprouting of super PACs, which can raise unlimited amounts of cash to finance political ads.

The nonprofit citizen advocacy group Common Cause seized on the two-year anniversary of the ruling, holding a telephone conference call with reporters this morning to launch its campaign called Amend2012.

"Citizens United opened the floodgates for corporations to use their massive treasury to directly influence elections," said Robert Reich, the former labor secretary in the Clinton administration and Common Cause's board president. "The potential for corruption and scandal is now the worst it's been since the days of Watergate and Nixon's bag men."

Common Cause wants to pass advisory initiatives or referendums condemning the decision in as many states as possible, slowly creating a groundswell for a constitutional amendment that would make it clear corporations are not people and that congress has the authority to limit campaign spending.

The campaign initially will target three states -- Colorado, Massachusetts and Montana -- trying to get a 2012 initiative on the ballot.

Washington is among seven additional states where Common Cause believes it is "feasible" to get a measure on the ballot as early as this November.

It's not at all clear how that would happen. Common Cause has no organization in Washington state; its local chapter shut down in 2002. To qualify for the November ballot, an initiative would have to get 241,153 signatures of registered voters by July 6.

Derek Cressman, the California-based director of Common Cause's anti-Citizens United campaign, said in an email the group will be trying to motivate other activists, such as those supportive of the Occupy Wall Street movement, to take up the cause.

Even if Washington were to pass an initiative, it would be merely a nonbinding expression -- aimed at pressuring Congress to act.

Amending the U.S. Constitution is a lengthy, very difficult process. It requires a two-thirds vote of Congress and then must be ratified by three-fourths of the states.

The last amendment, the 27th, which restricted the power of Congress to raise its own pay, was ratified in 1992, more than 200 years after the first state approved it.

"We're under no illusion here," Reich said. It will take "a very long time to win."


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