Massachusetts Citizens Commission Recommends Constitutional Amendment To Combat Undue Influence of Spending in Elections

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BOSTON – The Massachusetts Citizens Commission will hold a virtual press conference via Zoom at noon on September 17, 2020 – Constitution Day – to launch its second report on a Constitutional Amendment for Government of the People.

The Commission’s report includes specific recommendations for advancing a proposed amendment to the US Constitution to protect the voice and representation of all Americans by regulating and limiting concentrated money in elections.

In the November 2018 election, 1.8M Massachusetts voters (71%) approved a law to establish the Commission. After extensive research and testimony at 20 public hearings the Commission issued its first report in January, making findings about the damage to democracy and representation of the people since the Supreme Court invalidated many campaign finance laws on a theory that unlimited election spending was “free speech” under the First Amendment.

In accordance with the law passed by the voters, the second report addresses specific recommendations for one or more constitutional amendments to protect the free speech rights of all Americans and address the undue influence of concentrated money in elections.

The Commission was also asked to recommend sound constitutional amendment language to affirm that artificial entities—such as corporations and unions– do not possess the inalienable Constitutional rights of the people.

Members of the Commission will discuss the Report and its recommendations that were recently submitted to Governor Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura Healey, Secretary of State William Galvin, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and President of the Senate Karen Spilka.

Attorney General Healey commended the Commission’s work and pledged to help advance the constitutional amendment through Congress and ultimate ratification in the States: “We must stop the undue influence of money in our elections and government, and make sure all Americans are
represented on equal terms.  I thank the Commissioners for their efforts and thoughtful work on this report and look forward to working with them to pass a constitutional amendment to ensure that everyone has a fair voice in our elections.

Numerous studies, and the Commission’s first report earlier this year, have documented how most of the money in American elections now comes from a very small elite, less than 1% of the American population, and that the most Americans believe that they are not represented and have little voice in government. And the amount of spending has increased exponentially.

In 2010, before the US Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case opened the floodgates for spending in elections, so-called “indirect expenditures” (think of PACS and SUPER PACS) amounted to just $33 million; in 2016 “indirect expenditures” amounted to over 1.4 billion, a fifty-fold
increase in six years that was 21% of all spending.

“Our democracy is in danger,” said Costas Panagopoulos, co-chair of the Commission and professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at Northeastern University. “I can think of no better way to celebrate Constitution Day this year than by taking the next steps necessary to strengthen our Constitution and to rescue American democracy from the stranglehold of corporate money,” he added.

“With this report, the citizens of Massachusetts continue our legacy as pioneers in American democracy,” added William Kilmartin, co-chair of the Commission. “From the Mass Bay Charter which established the rule of self-government, to 1779 when we created the first-in-the-nation Citizen’s Convention to write our state constitution, to today’s problems with money in elections, the citizens of the Commonwealth mobilize when democratic principles are threatened,” he added.

“In November 2018, the voters of Massachusetts by ballot initiative voted overwhelmingly to create a commission to look at overhauling our federal campaign finance laws. In April 2019 this newly-formed 15 member Commission convened and since has had over 2 dozen meetings and many hours of input from the public coming from every corner of the Commonwealth. This included testimony from academics, scholars as well as present and past political party members both Democrat and Republican. This is the final report of our efforts to identify the problems within the current system of political campaign financing, a historical background with relevant court cases on how we’ve gotten to this point and why it’s time to reform the broken system and how to go about doing it. Finally, The report provides recommendations on how to pursue and galvanize support for a proposed 28th and 29th amendment to the US Constitution to overhaul our nations’ political campaign financing and reduce or eliminate the influence of dark money and Super PAC’s. If ratified (approved) by 38 State legislatures,” said Framingham resident Noval Alexander, who was appointed to the Commission by Senate President Spilka.

“These amendments would effectively overturn the 2010 US Supreme Court Citizens United vs FEC (Federal Elections Commission) decision. It’s quite fitting that Thursday September 17th is Constitution Day and in the midst of a Presidential and Congressional election campaign to be debuting this report to the press and citizens of Massachusetts and the nation. On behalf of my colleagues, It’s our hope every citizen takes time to read the report and ask themselves what can they do to ensure the power of the few with deep pockets and influence don’t continue to corrupt our electoral system and stifle the voices of the average citizen,” added Alexander.

Jeff Clements, secretary of the Commission and president of American Promise noted: “On this anniversary of the Constitution today, the time has come for all Americans to pull together to bring this constitutional amendment to renew our American democracy over the finish line.”

For the ZOOM Sept 17 event at noon

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/9639299384?pwd=aGVSa3crYmlhKzd0aUtvNEY5RElXZz09

A link to the full report can be found here.

A link to the Commission’s first report, dated December 31, 2019, is available here.

Portions of this report were a press release

editor

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