McGovern sponsors reversal of Citizens United
Two remain on board and one accuses the other of incompetence, changing minutes
One of Franklin County’s congressmen has proposed two constitutional amendments to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision that unleashed a flood of corporate and special interest money into the American political system.
Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass, whose Worcester-based district now encompasses Greenfield, Montague, Deerfield and the eastern portion of Franklin County, said he hopes his two joint resolutions — among the first presented this session — spur greater debate about whether Congress and the states should have the power to regulate political spending.
McGovern, who announced the resolutions on a “People’s Rights Tour” Thursday in Boston and Worcester, and who will appear at a similar event today at 3 p.m. at Northampton’s Forbes Library, said in a written statement, “The American people are deeply troubled by the growing influence of corporations in our political discourse. They are also demanding action on campaign finance reform — because they are repulsed by the large amount of money in our campaigns. And, quite frankly, they want elected officials to spend more time on policy, on debating and deliberating on issues — and less time dialing for dollars.”
A “campaign finance” amendment proposal, submitted last session by Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Ohio, and also being proposed in the Senate by Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, advances the fundamental principle of political equality for all by empowering Congress and the states to regulate political spending. It would allow Congress to pass campaign finance reform legislation that would withstand constitutional challenges.
McGovern seeks to undo the effect of the high court’s Citizens United case that in essence said corporations and unions are the same as people in their ability to donate to political campaigns, which unleashed vast amounts of corporate donations into campaign coffers.
A second house joint “People’s Rights” resolution that McGovern filed last session and re-introduced Tuesday, says, in part, “The words people, person, or citizen as used in this constitution do not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities established by the laws of any state, the United States, or any foreign state.
McGovern said the amendment would protect the people’s rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, free exercise of religion, freedom of association, and all other such rights of the people.
John Bonifaz, the Free Speech for People co-founder who has been working on helping draft the wording for the constitutional amendment, said McGovern had 25 co-sponsors for his Peoples Rights resolution last session, and has reintroduced it this time with bipartisan support.
“We recognize this movement needs to be built from the states,” Bonifaz said. “That’s why we’ve been working very hard with many other groups to get state resolutions passed via the legislatures and on the ballots. Eleven states have passed resolutions thus far, and Bonifaz expects that half of the states will have passed resolutions by the end of 2014.
Those resolutions are merely to gauge public sentiment to press Congress to pass the proposed amendments, which both houses would have to do by two-thirds votes. The amendment would then have to be ratified by three-quarters of the state legislatures within seven years.
“We’re going to need to continue to build support from the states before we see any floor debate in the Senate or the House,” said Bonifaz, adding that it seems “questionable” whether the Republican leadership in the House will allow hearings on the resolutions. The Citizens United decision was widely seen as benefiting Republicans, who generally enjoy support from the business community, although unions tend to favor Democrats.
Free Speech for People also helped launch a petition on the White House website calling on President Barack Obama to include a call for a constitutional amendment in his State of the Union address next month. The petition garnered 25,000 signatures Wednesday, the number needed for the White House – under a policy that’s since been amended – to issue a formal response, Bonifaz said.
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