Earlier today I was proud to file legislation to respond to the Supreme Court’s reckless decision in Citizens United v. FEC. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been working on this bill along with Representative Cory Atkins, Representative William Straus, Common Cause, Mass Vote, Mass PIRG and Free Speech for People for some time. Today we filed the bill, the Massachusetts Corporate Political Accountability Act.
Last January, on a 5-4 vote, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court struck down bipartisan legislation that had limited corporations from spending their general treasury funds on political advertisements during the months preceding an election. The Court overruled two of its own precedents and reversed law that had stood for decades. The decision also invalidated similar provisions of state law across the country, including a provision of Massachusetts law that had been in place since the beginning of the last century.
Now, for-profit corporations may spend unlimited amounts to influence elections at all levels of government.
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.
And the danger of undue corporate influence isn’t only for national elections. Indeed, the biggest danger to our democracy might be at the local level. A large developer seeking a change in a local zoning law, for example, could spend tens of thousands of dollars to influence a board of selectman race – small change to the company, perhaps, but a substantial amount of money for a local race. A selectman who opposed the company could never compete financially with the flood of advertising.
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.
As President Obama noted in his State of the Union Address, the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC could “open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections.”
Today we filed the Massachusetts Corporate Political Accountability Act, by far the strongest and most comprehensive legislative response to the Citizens United decision put forward anywhere in the country. This bill is about protecting the integrity of our democratic system from the corrosive influence of profit driven electioneering.
If passed, this legislation will:
- Require corporate sponsored political advertising to abide by the same disclosure laws that apply to other political spending and require CEO’s to appear in person in the ads their companies pay for, to take credit for the ad and inform the public that they “approved this message.”
- Prevent corporate interests from hiding their identities behind dummy organizations by requiring the top 5 contributors to an organization putting out a political ad to identify themselves in the ads they pay for.
- Ban organizations making independent expenditures from sharing staff with campaigns they are supporting.
- Ban state contractors or prospective state contractors from making campaign contributions or paying for political advertisements on behalf of any candidates for public office.
- Require the approval of a majority of the board of directors for any corporate political spending and require companies that issue stock to get the approval of their shareholders and include data on political spending in annual reports.
- And ban foreign corporations, foreign states and foreign political parties from influencing Massachusetts elections.
In addition, we also filed a resolution calling on Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to overrule the Citizens United decision and protect free speech for people. You can learn more about that effort here.
It’s clear we need action on the national level to deal with this far-reaching Supreme Court decision, and we need it quickly.
But regardless of what happens at the national level, we also need to take action here in Massachusetts to protect the integrity of our elections. By enacting these reforms we can get closer to ensuring that elections are truly decided by “we the people,” and not corporate special interests.