We don’t know how former U.S. House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, who died in 1994, would see politics today, given the current red and blue state split. But we suspect that the Massachusetts pol would stick by his famous pronouncement that “all politics is local.”
Interestingly, one issue making politics local across the country is a growing movement to get rid of the existing campaign spending scene created by the 2010 Supreme Court decision know as “Citizens United.”
In a number of states, including Massachusetts, voters of all political stripes want to overturn the ruling that defined corporations as “people” when it came to campaign spending — and thus opened the door to the pouring of millions into the elections by Super PACs. On Tuesday, for example, Montana’s voters, a majority of whom backed Republican Mitt Romney’s White House bid, called by a margin of 75 percent of the vote for a constitutional amendment reversing the impact of Citizens United.
Colorado also overwhelmingly passed a similar amendment.
Here in Massachusetts, though a less-formal approach, 170 towns and cities cast ballots on a nonbinding question that would rein in campaign spending and would no longer put corporations on equal footing with citizens. Seventy-nine percent of those voting on the measure across the state backed the effort.
“Massachusetts voters, along with their counterparts in Colorado, Montana, and dozens of cities across the country, sent an unequivocal message that they are fed up with big money in politics and want a fundamental overhaul of the system,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts in a press release following Tuesday’s election. “Citizens understand that despite what the Supreme Court has said in Citizens United and other earlier decisions, money is not protected speech under the 1st Amendment and corporations should not have the same rights as ‘we the people.’”
It’s clear from this election that plenty of corporations and wealthy individuals are willing to open up their wallets when it comes to spending money trying to influence voters. The Center for Responsive Politics estimated that some $6 billion was spent in this election for president and Congress. Here in Massachusetts, residents watched as Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren spent nearly $68 million fighting for the U.S. Senate seat, a figure that was made public about a week before the election.
This is just crazy — and wrong.
But if this is going to change, citizens are going to have to continue to pressure Congress to support the effort to bring a constitutional amendment back to the states for ratification.
Meanwhile, we need those same members of Congress to create a law that provides for full disclosure as to who’s behind the Super PACs and the donations.
As a nation, we can do this.