January 31, 2012
By Kyle Cheney
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JAN. 31, 2012…..Senate President Therese Murray said Tuesday that she would urge Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution to diminish the influence of corporate spending in elections, arguing the advent of so-called Super PACs is “destroying the civility of the political process.”
“It’s pretty scary,” she said, noting that Super PACs – shadowy, often corporate-backed entities that have plowed tens of millions of dollars into early presidential primary states – had pumped $15 million into attack ads in Florida, which is holding its primary Tuesday. “It’s too much money, and who are the people behind this, and what are the reasoning and why are they giving money? It’s pretty scary.”
Super PACs emerged in the aftermath of a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, known as Citizens United, in which the court ruled by a 5-4 majority that corporations and organized labor could spend unlimited amounts to influence elections in the form of independent expenditures, which aren’t directly affiliated with candidates or campaigns.
“The Government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote.
During a morning radio appearance, Murray voiced her support for a constitutional amendment to undo the impact of Citizens United, saying she would support a resolution pending in the state Legislature that would memorialize Congress to act. Her public support for that resolution caught its lead sponsor, Sen. James Eldridge, off-guard, although the Acton Democrat welcomed the news.
“That’s wonderful … that’s great news,” he said. “I have talked to her a number of times and she has expressed a real concern over the Citizens United decision. I have been working with the Election Laws Committee for disclosure requirements on the state level. I’ve appreciated her support this session on that issue … I literally haven’t talked to a single legislator who opposes it. The challenge, as with many resolutions, is getting it prioritized.”
The resolution is pending in the Committee on the Judiciary, which plans a hearing on it Feb. 28. Committee co-chairs Rep. Eugene O’Flaherty (D-Chelsea) and Sen. Cynthia Creem (D-Newton) were mum on the proposal.
“I’ve made an effort prior to public hearings to avoid comment on pending matters so all evidence can be accrued and evaluated,” O’Flaherty said in a statement.
Creem was not immediately available for comment.
Some Republicans have argued that Democrats’ attempts to limit the influence of corporations have ignored the impact of labor union spending in politics and were borne out of ideology rather than genuine efforts to preserve free speech for individuals.
Rep. Sheila Harrington (R-Groton), one of two House Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, declined to comment, saying she hoped to hear testimony at the hearing before finalizing her position. Rep. Daniel Winslow (R-Norfolk), the committee’s other House Republican, was not immediately available for comment.
Eldridge said concerns about union spending are a “red herring,” arguing that many unions are incorporated and would be subject to the same rights and restrictions as companies like Staples.
The resolution has the support of Sens. Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst), Daniel Wolf (D-Harwich), Katherine Clark (D-Melrose) and Benjamin Downing (D-Pittsfield), as well as Reps. Cory Atkins (D-Concord) Sarah Peake (D-Provincetown), William Pignatelli (D-Lenox), Cleon Turner (D-Dennis), Paul Mark (D-Hancock), Timothy Madden (D-Nantucket), Jonathan Hecht (D-Watertown), Kay Khan (D-Newton), Charles Murphy (D-Burlington) and James Arciero (D-Westford).
Attorney General Martha Coakley has also voiced support for the resolution.
The Supreme Court ruling stemmed from a dispute over a documentary critical of Hillary Clinton, which was set to air during the 2008 presidential primary season. The film’s sponsors pushed to advertise the film during the months-long primary stretch and make it available on-demand for viewers. When the sponsoring company, Citizens United, argued that restricting its promotion of the movie was unconstitutional, the case began making its way through the courts.
Corporations and labor unions are still required to disclose political donations. Voter participation advocates have called for lawmakers to amend state laws to ensure that if Super PACs attempt to influence Massachusetts elections, they are subject to disclosure requirements.