Lead Sponsors: Senator Jamie Eldridge & Representative Cory Atkins
Summary: This bill will address the problems created by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC by requiring new levels of disclosure and transparency for corporate political spending and prohibiting foreign corporations from influencing elections in Massachusetts.
Why This Matters: In January of 2010, on a 5-4 decision, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court struck down bipartisan federal legislation that had limited corporations from spending their general treasury funds on political expenditures.
The following March, the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance ruled that the decision invalidated similar prohibitions in Massachusetts General Law. Now, for-profit corporations may spend unlimited amounts to influence elections at all levels of government.
Because of their ability to make large contributions, wealthy individuals, PACs, corporations and special interest groups can wield a tremendous amount of political influence — and without basic disclosure laws, they can do so secretly and anonymously. When a person stands to speak at town meeting, the first thing they are asked to do is identify themselves so their neighbors know who they are and where they are coming from. Organizations paying for political advertisements in Massachusetts should be held to the same standard.
Last session, the Legislature passed a pre-cursor to this legislation in the budget, subjecting corporate-sponsored political advertising to the same disclosure laws that apply to other political spending, and requiring CEOs to “stand by their ads” by appearing in the ads to say they “approve this message.” This was a good first step, but more can and should be done to ensure true transparency in political campaign spending.
What this Bill Would Do: This bill is designed to fill in the gaps in Massachusetts campaign finance law in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC.
This bill will:
- Clarify that current disclosure and reporting requirements apply to all political communications allowed under the law
- Require corporations and labor unions paying for political advertisements to disclose their spending even if the advertisements are made by another group or entity
- Require entities or groups paying for political ads to report on funds they receive
- Require organizations spending large amounts on political advertisements to register as political committees
- Require political advertisements to include disclaimer statements that identify their top contributors, so that big donors can’t hide their spending behind a “shadow organization” with an innocuous sounding name.
- Prevent coordination between candidates and outside groups
- Ban contributions, independent expenditures, and electioneering communications by foreign nationals and foreign corporations.