Over the past few years, frustration with the increasing power that corporations have on our political system has been growing across the country.
Whether it has been the debate over healthcare reform, financial reform and consumer protection, or clean air and water regulations, we’ve seen time and time again the very real impact corporate lobbyists and corporate political spending have on our policymaking process, with corporate profits trumping the needs of average people over and over.
We’ve seen some of that frustration coming to a head at the Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Boston, and other political protests happening across the country, with the influence of corporate dollars on our democracy becoming one of the main concerns of protestors.
But you don’t have to be a protestor or “occupy” anything other than your own living room to agree that we’ve got a real and growing problem with corporate political spending in America, and that something needs to be done about it.
This problem was made worse in January 2010, when, 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.
Now, for-profit corporations may spend unlimited amounts of their general treasury funds to influence elections at all levels of government.
The danger is real: if Exxon Mobil 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 peanuts to the company, perhaps, but a substantial amount of money for that small 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.
Over the past several years, with the help of Common Cause, Mass Vote, the League of Women Voters, Mass PIRG and Free Speech for People, I’ve worked on legislation to blunt the impact of this reckless decision.
I introduced this legislation at the end of last session and filed these bills again this year. These bills were heard today by the Joint Committee on Elections:
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.
This bill would require corporations spending general treasury funds on political advertisements to notify their shareholders of those expenditures in quarterly reports. Additionally, this bill would require corporate managers to get approval from their board of directors prior to spending general treasury funds on political ads.
I also filed a Resolution restoring free speech, which requests the Congress of the United States to send to the states an amendment to the Constitution to correct the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC. This resolution would clarify that Freedom of Speech is a right of citizens, not corporations. That bill is currently before the Judiciary committee.
If you support these bills and want to see them become law, please be sure to contact your representatives and let them know. You can look up your State Representative and State Senators and find contact information here.
By enacting these reforms we can ensure that elections are truly decided by “we the people,” and not corporate special interests.