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Editorial: ‘Yes’ on 2: Prelude to change in election financing


Sunday, November 04, 2018

The roots of Massachusetts Ballot Question 2 go back to 2010, when the Supreme Court of the United States, in a 5-4 decision, ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that it is OK for corporations and labor unions to spend as much as they want to persuade people to vote for or against a candidate. The decision did not affect limits on contribution made directly to candidates for federal office. But it did give rise to so-called “super PACs,” which aggregate contributions and then use the money to produce and run (usually) negative ads calling for the election or defeat of individual candidates.

That SCOTUS decision has roiled politics ever since. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Corporations are not people.” It refers to that 2010 decision and is a rallying cry of reformers who want to level the political playing field by limiting the influece of big money in our elections — and by extension our government.

Reformers offer two general approaches to killing Citizens United: 1) the Supreme Court could reverse itself. With the current make-up of the Supreme Court, the prospects for such a reversal are dubious. Or, 2) Congress and the states could amend the U.S. Constitution. Hence, Massachusetts Ballot Question 2, which would create an advisory commission for amendments to the U.S. Constitution regarding corporate personhood and political spending.

Question 2 is summarized on your ballot like this:

“The proposed law would create a citizens commission to consider and recommend potential amendments to the United States Constitution to establish that corporations do not have the same Constitutional rights as human beings and that campaign contributions and expenditures may be regulated.

“Any resident of Massachusetts who is a United States citizen would be able to apply for appointment to the 15-member commission, and members would serve without compensation. The Governor, the Secretary of the Commonwealth, the state Attorney General, the Speaker of the state House of Representatives, and the President of the state Senate would each appoint three members of the commission and, in making these appointments, would seek to ensure that the commission reflects a range of geographic, political, and demographic backgrounds.

“The commission would be required to research and take testimony, and then issue a report regarding (1) the impact of political spending in Massachusetts; (2) any limitations on the state’s ability to regulate corporations and other entities in light of Supreme Court decisions that allow corporations to assert certain constitutional rights; (3) recommendations for constitutional amendments; (4) an analysis of constitutional amendments introduced to Congress; and (5) recommendations for advancing proposed amendments to the United States Constitution ...”

… “A YES VOTE would create a citizens commission to advance an amendment to the United States Constitution to limit the influence of money in elections and establish that corporations do not have the same rights as human beings.

”A NO VOTE would not create this commission.”

Opponents argue this is a freedom of speech issue and that the court ruled to expand that freedom and apply it equally to all entities and organizations.

Proponents contend that money is not speech, it is power, and concentrated power requires checks and balances.

So far, 19 states have gone on record in favor of a U.S. constitutional amendment to restore the power of Congress and the states to put limits on campaign spending. State actions have come either through legislative resolutions, collective letters from state legislators to Congress, or popular referendums (like the one on our ballot). The country is halfway to the three-fourths of the states (38 out of 50) needed to ratify a proposed amendment.

We recommend a “Yes” vote on Ballot Question 2 as a prelude to a potential amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Indeed, corporations are not people, and we need to return power to real people.