Lowell Sun: Bill Aims to Water Down Political Spending

By Matt Murphy, mmurphy@lowellsun.comUpdated: 06/22/2010

BOSTON — Two local lawmakers are spearheading an effort on Beacon Hill to “blunt the impact” of the Supreme Court decision that opened the door to unlimited corporate spending in political campaigns.

Sen. Jamie Eldridge, an Acton Democrat, introduced legislation yesterday co-written with Rep. Cory Atkins, D-Concord, that would impose a series of public-disclosure requirements on corporations that spend money for advertising to influence elections.

The bill is a direct response to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision in January that struck down prohibitions against corporate spending on campaigns.

The 5-4 ruling essentially found that corporations are entitled to the same First Amendment rights as ordinary citizens.

“The bill is about protecting the integrity of our democratic system from the corrosive influence of profit-driven political spending,” Eldridge said at a Statehouse press conference.

Eldridge worked on the bill with Atkins and Rep. William Straus, D-Mattapoiset.

Atkins did not attend the announcement after being hospitalized Sunday night with pneumonia, according a member of her staff. She was being treated at Emerson Hospital in Concord.

The bill, titled the Massachusetts Corporate Political Accountability Act, would require the CEO of any company to appear personally in ads paid for by his company to state that he “approved this message,” similar to requirements for candidates.

The legislation also requires the top five contributors to an organization making an independent political expenditure to identify themselves, and requires the majority of the board of directors or shareholders in a public company to approve political spending.

Lastly, the bill bans foreign companies from trying to influence Massachusetts elections with independent spending, and prohibits state contractors or prospective state contractors from making campaign contributions or funding advertisements on behalf of a candidate for public office.

Crafted primarily to increasing transparency around corporate spending in campaigns, Eldridge and other supporters acknowledged that their bill could do little to curb the potential for large amounts of corporate dollars to be spent in upcoming elections. An amendment to the U.S. Constitution would be necessary to reverse the Supreme Court decision.

“It’s just a first step,” said Eldridge, who is hopeful he can persuade his colleagues to pass the bill before the Legislative session ends July 31.

Advocates said they were concerned the court decision would not only impact high-profile congressional and state races, but trickle down to local elections as well.

“We fear this will unleash a flood of corporate money into our election,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts.

Eldridge envisioned a scenario in which deep-pocketed developers would begin to run advertisements to try to influence local races for boards of selectmen and zoning boards to curry favor for their projects.

There are four bills pending in Congress that take similar steps to curb corporate political influence at the federal level.

Eldridge, Atkins and other lawmakers plan to call for a resolution to be passed by the Legislature urging Congress to begin the process of amending the Constitution to overturn the high court ruling.


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