Background on Question 2:
[Question 2 is a response to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. This ruling equated any money spent on political issues – such as independent ads and donations to PACs – to free speech, meaning any attempt to regulate money spent by corporations, unions, or other groups would be in violation of their First Amendment rights. Corporations can now fund political campaigns with few limitations.
A “Yes” on Question 2 would authorize the formation of a citizens commission of 15 people that would investigate political spending in Massachusetts and create a report suggesting a Constitutional amendment to prevent “artificial entities” from being afforded the same free speech rights as individuals. This would in essence restrict the ability of corporations, unions, and other groups to contribute to political campaigns.
The commission and the report would only be a small first step, however. Any proposal for a Constitutional amendment needs the support of 38 states or two-thirds of the House and Senate.
Currently, Massachusetts is the only state officially working toward this goal.]
While the mechanics of Question 2 seem complicated and its results pretty meager, at its heart, Question 2 is asking the people of Massachusetts if they think special interest spending in politics has gone too far.
The 2010 Citizens United decision directly resulted in an influx of campaign money from corporations and organizations with a clear stake – financial or otherwise – in ensuring that certain laws were passed. Said another way, the Citizens United decision has given corporations and other groups the ability to sway our county’s political process in their favor in a way that few individuals ever could.
This isn’t just fearmongering. Let’s make this issue concrete. The National Rifle Association (NRA) is a perfect example.
Ever wondered why – no matter the outcry – new gun legislation is repeatedly blocked? According to federal election data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics and CNN, more than half of the congressional incumbents have received money or support from the NRA.
According to CNN, “Among the 535 current members of Congress in both the House and the Senate, 307 have received either direct campaign contributions from the NRA and its affiliates or benefited from independent NRA spending like advertising supporting their campaigns.”
The Citizens United ruling has allowed the NRA and other organizations more leeway to flood our political playing field with money – and with money comes influence.
But corporations and organizations are not people, and they do not deserve the same Constitutional rights as individual citizens. The regular person does not have too much to gain from donating to support a political initiative, but a corporation or other special interest group – like the NRA – has loads to gain and loads to spend.
By claiming the same rights as the individual American, these groups have been able to steal political power from the individual American.
Now I fully acknowledge that a “yes” vote on ballot question 2 will not be much more than a symbolic gesture on behalf of the people of Massachusetts. But symbols have much more power than they are often given credit for.
If we as a state stand together to say – even in as weak a form as a commission and a report – that we do not want our political process to be ruled by corporate money, hopefully we can lead a wave of change across the country.
Perhaps a Constitutional amendment isn’t the exact right way to limit the power of corporations and other organizations. Maybe we need a more robust architecture for managing bodies beyond the scope of anything our Founding Fathers experienced.
But question 2 isn’t confirming a constitutional amendment, really. It’s bringing the focus back to the discussion about the dangerous influence of corporate money in politics.