At the February 11th meeting of the Lamorinda Democratic Club, Common Cause Regional Director for State Operations for Western States Derek Cressman discussed the “deeply troublingâ€? Citizens United Supreme Court Decision, Citizens United vs. FEC. During his talk, Cressman expressed concern that the January 21, 2010 Supreme Court is “eroding the role that that institution is supposed to play in our Democracy,â€? by overturning years’ worth of precedent. He cautioned that the recent ruling could have implications for a strong Democratic leader like Senator Barbara Boxer, as corporations that disagree with her stances on global warming, health care and finance reform could spend several million dollars to defeat her. However, Californians have been living with unlimited corporate donations for years, so nothing will change on the state level.

Cressman advised that there are three immediate responses to combat the Supreme Court decision: 1) Require greater disclosure of political ads (i.e. require the CEO of the corporation funding a political ad to make an authorization statement at the end of the ad). 2) Require shareholders to approve campaign expenditures. 3) Require the Supreme Court to uphold a ban on foreign corporations (i.e. those corporations with 20% or more owned by a foreign entity).

Cressman is cautiously excited about the passage of Proposition 15, The California Fair Elections Act, on the June 2010 ballot. Under Prop 15, to qualify for the statewide ballot, Secretary of State candidates would need to find 7,500supporters to sign a petition and contribute $5. They must also agree to strict spending limits. Then, these candidates would receive $1M for the primary election and $1.3 M for a general election campaign. As of February 11, 2010, Proposition 15 was polling at 60% approval.

In addition to helping manage state operations, Cressman coordinates Common Cause’s work on the national popular vote, and writes and organizes around election reforms such as vote-by-mail. A graduate of Williams College, he has worked on democracy issues since 1995, and is considered a leading expert on money in politics and democracy issues. Prior to joining Common Cause, Cressman founded and directed, a nonprofit watchdog that raised awareness of the role of big money in politics.