SACRAMENTO, Calif. /California Newswire/ — This week, California Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s (D-Los Angeles) AJR 1, a measure to begin the process to amend the United States Constitution to address the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, took a major step forward, passing the California State Assembly by a vote of 51-20. In Citizens United, a deeply divided Supreme Court held that corporations are due the same free-speech rights enjoyed by natural persons.

The decision spawned “Super PACs,” which have flooded unlimited and largely anonymous corporate money into federal elections. According to the Federal Election Commission, Super PAC spending in 2012 federal elections totaled more than $567 million.

Assemblyman Mike Gatto“Most Americans are fed up with the notion that money is speech and that moneyed interests can therefore drown out the speech of average citizens,” said Gatto.

Historically, all amendments to the U.S. Constitution have started in Congress, and been ratified later by 3/4 of the states. AJR 1 takes advantage of the rarely-used Article V process for amending the federal Constitution, which allows states to demand that Congress act. If 2/3 of the states make such a demand, Congress must call a constitutional convention on the topic. Several states and municipalities have already passed informal resolutions condemning the Citizens United decision, but Gatto’s AJR 1 is the first to utilize the Article V process which could compel Congress to act.

The state-initiated process in Article V has been tried several times, with limited success. Although the process has never resulted in a constitutional convention, it has spurred Congress to take action several times. According to a 2007 article in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, at least four different amendments to the U.S. Constitution have been proposed by Congress in part because of Article V actions. For example, the amendments that repealed prohibition and allowed for the direct election of Senators were first demanded by state legislatures under Article V.

AJR 1 calls for a convention that would be expressly limited to campaign-finance and corporate-personhood issues. Now that it has passed the State Assembly, the resolution will next go to the California State Senate, after which other states could similarly act, triggering the convention. Its passage is further significant because it is the first time in recent memory that a Democratic-controlled legislature has passed an Article V demand. Several Republican-controlled statehouses have recently passed Article V resolutions for the Balanced Budget Amendment or simply to establish rules for a future Article V convention. Today’s passage of AJR 1 signifies broad, nationwide, bipartisan action, by the legislators closest to the people, to demand action on Congress on big issues.

“I doubt our Founding Fathers had the free-speech rights of multi-national and foreign corporations in mind when they drafted the First Amendment,” said Gatto. “But the Founding Fathers did anticipate that every once in a while, the states would need to prod Congress to act to amend the Constitution. That’s what we are doing.”

Mike Gatto is the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the California State Assembly. He represents Burbank, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta, Montrose, and the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Atwater Village, East Hollywood, Franklin Hills, Hollywood Hills, Los Feliz, and Silver Lake.