State lawmakers, advocates and activists gathered Tuesday before a state legislative committee to show support for a state resolution calling on the U.S. Congress to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and restore fair elections and constitutional rights to the people.
S. 772, “The People’s Rights Resolution,” introduced by State Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and State Rep. Cory Atkins (D-Concord), decries the court’s ruling as a “serious and direct threat to our democracy.” If passed, the resolution would have the Massachusetts Legislature call upon the U.S. Congress to “pass and send to the states for ratification a constitutional amendment to restore the First Amendment and fair elections to the people.” The bill has more than a dozen co-sponsors.
“In two short years, the Citizens United decision has upended our election system, with serious consequences for the health of our democracy. The voices of ordinary Americans are being drowned out by the tens of millions of dollars that are being poured into attack ads paid for corporate donors,” said Eldridge. “The problem is real, and we owe it to the citizens of the Commonwealth to do what we can, as a legislature, to stop this. The only effective, long-term solution is to pass a constitutional amendment that will overturn this misguided, destructive decision.”
Added Atkins, “Our democracy is at risk. The Citizens United decision opened the floodgates, allowing unlimited corporate money to flow into politics. We must pass a constitutional amendment stating that people, not corporations, have a right to free speech. Only by preserving the voice of individual citizens can we protect our democracy.”
Judiciary Committee members also heard testimony from legal experts, business owners and democracy advocates, each arguing why S. 772 was a valuable and necessary step forward and one that the committee and Massachusetts lawmakers should support.
“The fundamental question facing the nation today is whether people or corporations shall govern in America,” said John Bonifaz, the co-founder and director of Free Speech For People. Free Speech For People has targeted Massachusetts to be among the first states to pass a state legislative resolution in support of such a constitutional amendment. Earlier this year, New Mexico became the second state in the nation (after Hawaii) to pass a resolution. “With the passage of this resolution, Massachusetts can help lead the way in restoring American democracy to the people,” Bonifaz said.
Dozens of activists from across the state came to the hearing to show support for the resolution. They wore stickers saying “Corporations Are Not People,” and fanned out across the statehouse to meet with their representatives to urge them to support the bill.
“Across the country, we’re seeing support grow every day for a constitutional amendment to take back our democracy from corporate interference,” said Mark Hays, campaign coordinator for Public Citizen’s Democracy Is For People Campaign. “With this sort of momentum, we’re ready to write the next chapter of our campaign to ensure that democracy is for people, not corporations.”
In the wake of the Citizens United decision, campaign spending by outside groups has skyrocketed. In the 2010 election cycle, the first since the Supreme Court decision, outside groups spent nearly $300 million.
“Because of Citizens United, corporations can decide which candidates have the money to get out their message and which candidates get flattened by negative ads. That’s wrong,” said Avi Green, co-director of MassVOTE. “Politics should be for all of us – not just the super-wealthy and the big corporations they control.”
Super PACs have emerged as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, amassing huge amounts of money used for attack ads. Super PACs are expected to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in the 2012 elections. All of this corporate money promises to help make this election record-setting.
“We need short-term responses to this disastrous decision, such as increased disclosure,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts. “But we can reverse it and reduce money in politics only with a constitutional amendment. Passing S. 772 will put Massachusetts on the forefront of that critical effort, which, as the cradle of liberty, is where we should be.”
Other states across the country, including California, Vermont Washington and Maryland also are advancing resolutions or similar measures. Cities across the nation have voted to rid elections of corporate cash, and are advancing local resolutions similar to S. 772 to build support for its passage.