May 4, 2012
Framingham’s resolution states that Citizens United vs. FEC presents “a serious and direct threat to our democracy.”
It also states that the “the present system of campaign financing is dramatically diluting the voice of Americans who do not control a large corporate treasury by enabling anonymous corporate super-PACs to overwhelm voters and threaten public officials with massive negative campaign advertising.”
Framingham is calling for a constitutional amendment that regulates campaign contributions, and establishes political committees to receive, spend and publicly disclose the sources of money raised and spent on elections.
Framingham selectmen supported the ideas in a unanimous vote.
Wilmot said the Citizens United decision is just one deficiency that requires a constitutional amendment but represented “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
She said there’s widespread public support for overturning Citizens United, as evidenced in a Suffolk University poll that found 82 percent in favor.
In addition to the 30 cities and towns, which include Natick, that have passed resolutions, there are about 20 more are pending “and more coming in the pipeline,” she said.
“There are many organizations that are involved but it really is a grassroots bottom-up campaign and the beginnings of a movement for a constitutional amendment,” she said.
Wilmot said the constitution has only been amended 27 times in U.S. history.
“This really has to catch fire because of the difficulty of the undertaking,” she said.
Framingham Town Meeting has a request for Congress that resonates around the country: Help stop runaway election campaign spending.
Framingham is one of the latest cities and towns to join what state Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Action, calls an “amazing grassroots effort” to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial 2010 Citizens United decision.
Town Meeting last week overwhelmingly passed a resolution that members now want to see make its way to the state Legislature and then Washington. It calls on Congress to pass and allow each state to ratify a constitutional amendment that sets “reasonable limits” on all election contributions and expenditures, including a candidate’s own spending.
“In other words, the last thing we want to do is leave all the major offices to multimillionaires and billionaires,” said lead sponsor Mel Warshaw.
Warshaw, who started his career as a civil rights lawyer, compares this movement to the Equal Rights Amendment, which he pushed for back in the ‘60s.
The 2010 Citizens United decision allows corporations and unions to throw unlimited amounts of money at candidates to fund their election bids.
“I think we all, most people realize that that’s a real danger to democracy,” said Eldridge, whose district includes nearby Southborough, Sudbury, Westborough and Marlborough.
Eldridge is the main sponsor of a similar resolution for Congress to overturn Citizens United that’s now before the state’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary. He said he hopes the Legislature will pass it and the governor will sign it by the end of July.
“I’m very impressed with what Framingham did,” the senator said.
Framingham became the 26th of 30 communities in Massachusetts to so far pass a resolution calling for Congress to take action.
“Each resolution is slightly different,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, which has taken an active role in the movement, but she said the core principle is that corporations should not have the same constitutional rights as humans.
Warshaw said he’s proud of the language he came up with for Framingham’s resolution and that state lawmakers can feel free to borrow it.
“It seems to be less partisan, less accusatory of the Supreme Court, so it’s easier for others, particularly Republicans, to support our resolution and yet it goes much further than Jamie Eldridge’s resolution,” he said.
A Town Meeting member in Precinct 7, Warshaw is also treasurer of the Framingham Democratic Town Committee.