Lead Sponsor: Senator Jamie Eldridge & Representative Cory Atkins
Summary: This resolution asks the Congress of the United States to send to the states a constitutional amendment that would limit the right of free speech to citizens, not corporations.
Why This Matters: In the January 2010 case Citizens United vs FEC, the Supreme Court struck down bipartisan federal legislation that had limited corporations from spending their general treasury funds on political expenditures. As a result, for-profit corporations may now spend unlimited amounts to influence elections at all levels of government.
The Court’s action dramatically dilutes the voice of every American who does not control a large corporate treasury. Corporate lobbyists and other powerful special interests will be able to threaten public officials at all levels with the possibility of unending negative campaign ads if their agendas are not supported — and the voices of ordinary citizens could be drowned out of the electoral process.
The danger is real: if ExxonMobil had spent just 2 percent of its 2008 profits in the last presidential election, it would have outspent McCain and Obama combined.
Indeed, according to the Washington Post, spending on television ads by groups independent of the campaigns is already five times what it was during the entire Republican primary season four years ago. We’re seeing the results of the Citizens United case right now, and the negative effects will only increase.
For over a century, Congress and the states have limited the role of money in the political process due to its inevitably corrupting influence. There is no reason that today should be any different.
What This Bill Would Do: By passing this resolution the Massachusetts Legislature would go on the record and request that the US Congress to send to the states a constitutional amendment that would limit the right of free speech to citizens, not corporations. Such an amendment would correct the decision reached in Citizens United, effectively allowing state legislatures and Congress to regulate corporate political spending.
To pass a constitutional amendment, Congress must first approve the amendment by a supermajority (2/3) vote in both houses. Following this, the amendment is sent to the states. Three-quarters of the state legislatures (38 out of 50) must ratify the amendment for it to succeed.
(An amendment may also be proposed by a national constitutional convention called for by 2/3 of the state legislatures, but this has never happened. An amendment may also be ratified by conventions in ¾ of the states. This has occurred only once, when Prohibition was repealed).