October 28, 2010
As the uproar continues about unlimited corporate spending in campaigns, made possible in part due to Supreme Court ruling Citizens United that opened the door to unlimited corporate spending, several moves are afoot in Massachusetts to limit the ruling’s impact.
State Senator, Jamie Eldridge, from Acton, is planning to file a bill that require that shareholders of companies give their permission before a company can spend money on an ad in a state election. The bill would also prohibit executives of any corporation or union that does business with the state from spending money on state elections, either as individuals or as a corporation.
Eldridge originally filed the bill this summer, but it did not get a hearing before the lawmaking session ended. He said increased awareness of the dangerous of the Citizens United ruling would spur the passage of the bill, which would only impact state elections. (States can’t pass laws to influence federal elections.)
“I think after an election where you see the impact of Citizens United money being spent, there is a growing awareness from Massachusetts legislature that Massachusetts needs to do its part to stop the corrosive influence of money on politics,” he said in a telephone interview.
One part of his law that did pass — as an attachment to the budget — was a requirement that CEOs of companies and groups that buy ads in state elections appear in the ads to tell the public they paid for it. That is happening in state ads now. Eldridge said Massachusetts was the first state to take action to limit the impact of Citizens United in state elections.
“The Supreme Court has said that massive corporations have the right to step on individuals, ” said Avi Green, Executive Director of Mass Vote, a non-partisan non-profit voting rights organization. “Massachusetts can say, ‘That’s fine, but it can’t happen in the dark.'”
An a separate effort, Jeff Clements, an attorney from Concord, is trying to start a nation-wide movement to amend the Constitution to clarify that corporations do not have free speech rights.
He has helped launch, freespeechforpeople.org, to collect signatures to convince Congress to act.
The Supreme Court ruling “cannot stand,” the group’s Web site reads. “The First Amendment was never intended to protect corporations. Free speech is for people, not corporations. We must act now.”
He acknowledges that changing the Constitution is not easy.
“It is a long road, but traveling down that road is important too,” he said. “It’s like the Equal Rights Amendment. It never got ratified, but campaigning for it made the laws and society much more equal for women, but amendment campaigns have a very important role to play.”