Bay State takes aim at Citizens United

Associated Press
Published: 11/4/2018 6:38:39 PM

Voters in Massachusetts could give an important boost to a movement seeking to amend the U.S. Constitution to restore some limits on corporations’ political spending.

Voters on Tuesday are being asked to create a special state commission charged with weighing potential constitutional amendments that would overturn the Citizens United decision, which helped open the door to allowing businesses, unions and nonprofits to spend unlimited amounts to influence elections.

The question is part of a wider multistate effort to undo the 2010 Supreme Court ruling.

American Promise, the national organization behind the effort to reverse Citizens United, said 19 states have already signaled their support for similar amendments, most through resolutions approved by legislatures. Voters in four states – Colorado and Montana in 2012 and California and Washington in 2016 – also approved questions aimed at nixing the court ruling.

The voters in those states essentially instructed their congressional delegations to support an amendment overturning Citizens United, without offer specific language. In Massachusetts, which doesn’t allow statewide advisory questions, the referendum would take the step of creating a citizens commission to research the issue and suggest possible amendments.

The goal is to guarantee everyone has an equal shot at getting the ear of lawmakers – something he said the current political system fails to do, said Ben Gubits, political director for American Promise.

“It’s been a long trend in our democracy working for the folks that make large campaign contributions – wealthy individuals, corporations and some unions – while the rest of the average citizens don’t have a voice,” he said.

The call to overturn Citizens United has bipartisan support, Gubits said. His group counts members of both parties on its advisory council, which includes former Wyoming U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, a Republican, and former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee for president in 1988, he said. Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker and Democratic U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren have said they will vote for the question.

The group disputes that laws limiting political spending violate the First Amendment, Gubits said, arguing money doesn’t equal speech.

Not everyone agrees.

Paul Craney, spokesman for the conservative-leaning Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, said the ballot question is wrong-headed.

“Is money speech?” he said. “Absolutely.”


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