Lawmakers Respond to Court Ruling on Campaign Finance

BOSTON-State lawmakers filed legislation today intended to counter a Supreme Court ruling allowing corporations and unions to pour unlimited amounts of money directly into political advertisements.  Senator Jamie Eldridge, Representative Cory Atkins and Representative William Straus filed the Massachusetts Corporate Political Accountability Act to address the problems created by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

“If left unchallenged, the Supreme Court’s reckless decision will allow corporate lobbyists and other powerful special interests to dominate the electoral process with unending negative campaign ads. As a result, the voices of ordinary citizens could be drowned out,” said Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton). “The legislation we’re filing today is about protecting the integrity of our democratic system from the corrosive influence of profit-driven political spending.”

This past January, on a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court struck down bipartisan legislation that had limited corporations from spending their general treasury funds on political expenditures.  In March, the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance ruled that the decision invalidated similar prohibitions in Massachusetts General Law.

The legislation filed today would require new levels of disclosure and transparency for corporate political spending, eliminating “pay-to-play” opportunities for state contractors, enshrining new protections for employees, shareholders and investors, and prohibiting foreign corporations from influencing elections in Massachusetts.

The legislation has also won the early support of Secretary of the Commonwealth William F. Galvin. “This legislation is a step closer toward ensuring that the public can know which corporations are spending what to influence elections and public policy and I wholeheartedly support this effort,” said Secretary Galvin.

“The Constitution begins, ‘We the people,’ not ‘we the corporations,'” said Representative Cory Atkins (D-Concord).  “The Supreme Court made a terrible mistake by giving corporations unlimited power to influence elections.  We demand that this ill-conceived notion be corrected as soon as possible.  If passed, this legislation will help ensure that people, not companies, decide who wins elections.”

While several other states have passed smaller measures aimed at responding to the Citizens United decision, the legislation being put forward in Massachusetts is by far the strongest and most comprehensive.  The legislation would require CEOs to appear in person in the ads that their companies pay for to take responsibility for the ad and inform the public that they “approve this message,” and require shareholder and director approval for corporate political spending.

The law would also require the top five contributors to the cost of ads covered under the new rules to be listed to prevent corporations from hiding their political contributions behind dummy organizations.

“This important legislation is needed to solidify our campaign finance laws,” said Representative William Straus (D-Mattapoisett). “Without its passage, future campaigns could be drastically altered, so much that foreign corporations could jump into state and municipal elections with their outside money and change the result.”

The state legislation comes just days after Congress was widely criticized by good government watchdogs for watering down the federal response to the ruling.

“Massachusetts should join a growing number of states and the federal government in addressing a potential tsunami of corporate political spending unleashed by the Citizens United case,” said Pam Wilmot, Executive Director of Common Cause Massachusetts.  “This unfortunate decision essentially overturned laws across the country, like ours in Massachusetts that were passed 100 years ago.  The Massachusetts Corporate Political Accountability Act cannot reverse the decision, but it can ensure that citizens have the facts in a timely manner and can ensure that shareholders have a say in whether such expenditures get made in the first place.”

The lawmakers also filed a nonbinding resolution calling on Congress to pass a Constitutional Amendment to clarify that corporations do not have the same rights as citizens.

“The American people have used the Constitutional amendment process over and over again to make our democracy work for everyone, and to correct the Court when its missteps threaten the American promise of self-government,” said Jeffrey Clements, general counsel of Free Speech for People, a national Constitutional amendment campaign launched in response to the Citizens United ruling.   “The ruling in Citizens United that corporations have the same speech rights as people and can pour billions of dollars into our elections at every level is deeply wrong and threatens our democracy.  Americans across the country now are working for a 28th Amendment to restore free speech and fair elections to the people. We are grateful for the leadership of Sen. Eldridge, Rep. Atkins and Rep. Straus in this effort, and proud that Massachusetts once again is taking a leading role to ensure government of, for, and by the people.”

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