Yes on Question #2 (Massachusetts)

This is the second of three posts that will examine and make recommendations relative to the three state-wide ballot questions that will be part of the 2018 midterms here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

The Secretary of State’s office has information relative to all three ballot questions on the Secretary’s website. The following is the summary of the question from the Secretary of State:

Question #2: This proposed law would create a citizens commission to consider and recommend potential amendments to the United States Constitution to establish that corporations do not have the same Constitutional rights as human beings and that campaign contributions and expenditures may be regulated.

Any resident of Massachusetts who is a United States citizen would be able to apply for appointment to the 15-member commission, and members would serve without compensation. The Governor, the Secretary of the Commonwealth, the state Attorney General, the Speaker of the state House of Representatives, and the President of the state Senate would each appoint three members of the commission and, in making these appointments, would seek to ensure that the commission reflects a range of geographic, political, and demographic backgrounds.

The commission would be required to research and take testimony, and then issue a report regarding (1) the impact of political spending in Massachusetts; (2) any limitations on the state’s ability to regulate corporations and other entities in light of Supreme Court decisions that allow corporations to assert certain constitutional rights; (3) recommendations for constitutional amendments; (4) an analysis of constitutional amendments introduced to Congress; and (5) recommendations for advancing proposed amendments to the United States Constitution.

The commission would be subject to the state Open Meeting Law and Public Records Law. The commission’s first report would be due December 31, 2019, and the Secretary of the Commonwealth would be required to deliver the commission’s report to the state Legislature, the United States Congress, and the President of the United States.

The proposed law states that, if any of its parts were declared invalid, the other parts would stay in effect. The proposed law would take effect on January 1, 2019.

A YES VOTE would create a citizens commission to advance an amendment to the United States Constitution to limit the influence of money in elections and establish that corporations do not have the same rights as human beings.

A NO VOTE would not create this commission.

 

 

This one is more or less a no-brainer.  I’ve already written extensively about campaign finance and the impact of the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions. In a nutshell, these decisions granted corporations “free speech” rights (as if they were real people), equated spending money on campaigns with free speech, and essentially allowed corporations (through the use of political action committees) the right to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns.[1] What this has caused – as pretty much everyone with a brain predicted – is an enormous deluge of money pouring into political campaigns. Because political action committees can, to a very large extent, hide their donors, it also means that it’s pretty much impossible to know who is funding political campaigns or even that they are not being funded in part by millionaires and billionaires from foreign countries.

Defenders of Citizens United have made the remarkably feeble argument that it somehow “strengthened” the First Amendment by unshackling the loudest voices in the room. I can disprove that theory pretty quickly.

Imagine, if you will, that you’re on the Boston Common, the classic “public forum” that the founders had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment. You’re standing on a soapbox and shouting at the top of your lungs about some issue that you care passionately about. Opposing you is a billionaire who has decided to install a sound-system of the type that is used at Gillette Stadium, and he has speakers installed all around the Common. He’s speaking at a normal volume but he has the volume cranked so high that they can hear him all the way over at Fenway Park.[2]

Now, the defenders of Citizens United would have you believe that this is a good outcome for the First Amendment. What campaign finance regulation used to do is set some limits on the volume that any particular side of a political debate could use. And that the overall volume could not exceed certain decibels. Now, that’s all been blown away.

With the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court you can pretty much kiss goodbye the notion that Citizens United will be overturned by the Supreme Court. So adding an amendment to the Constitution will be about the only way to right this wrong.

This particular initiative petition is a small step in that direction. And really, it’s a pretty small step. I don’t know that this Citizens Commission is actually going to help much, if at all. But having an overwhelming “yes” vote would at least demonstrate to anyone who’s paying attention that the voters of Massachusetts are endorsing the reversal of Citizens United in overwhelming numbers.

For this reason I recommend voting yes on Question #2.


[1] Technically they also applied this logic to unions, but in this day and age unions have nowhere near the financial clout that corporations have. Moreover, the Supreme Court has recently decided a case that makes it much more difficult for unions to speak with one voice politically, or to collect agency fees.  See Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31.

[2] Or to make the analogy even better, our billionaire doesn’t even have to speak into the sound system himself. He can simply hire a spokesman, never to be identified, who speaks on his behalf. And the rest of us would never be able to know who that was.

About a1skeptic

A disturbed citizen and skeptic. I should stop reading the newspaper. Or watching TV. I should turn off NPR and disconnect from the Internet. We’d all be better off.
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