Looking at Question 2

By Bob Katzen

This week the focus is on Question 2 on the November 6 ballot.

Question 2 asks voters if they approve of a proposed law that would create a citizens’ commission to consider and recommend potential amendments to the U.S. Constitution to establish that corporations do not have the same constitutional rights as human beings and that campaign contributions and expenditures may be regulated.

The proposed law is in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In that case, the court ruled that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting corporations, unions and individuals from donating unlimited funds to Super Political Action Committees (PACs) that do not donate directly to candidates or political parties.

The Super PACs are often run by a candidate’s former staffers or associates, who use the PAC to fund negative ads against the candidate’s opponents. A candidate’s own committee’s contributions are limited by federal law but Super PACs, as a result of the court decision, can legally accept unlimited donations.

The commission would investigate the entire issue and then file a report regarding the impact of political spending in Massachusetts; 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; recommendations for constitutional amendments; an analysis of constitutional amendments introduced to Congress; and recommendations for advancing proposed amendments to the Constitution.

“We have over 700 volunteers across the state knocking doors, making phone calls, e-mailing and texting,” said Ben Gubits, National Political Director of Concord-based American Promise. “We’ve had big endorsements from both Democrat and Republican leaders in the state and across the country. The campaign is going strong and we’re confident that we will win on Election Day, but we’re not taking anything for granted because this doesn’t end on Election Day. Question 2 is part of a national effort of ‘We the People’ to reclaim our republic from wealthy special interests.”

“Question 2 is a silly, feel-good liberal primal scream, a Quixotic tilt at one of its most threatening windmills, with no teeth and no real effect,” said Chip Ford, Executive Director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “If adopted, it would create a meaningless ‘advisory commission’ to propose an unlikely amendment to the Constitution that might hopefully overturn the  Supreme Court’s free speech decision in Citizens United.”

“Wealthy donors have long had an outsized influence in our democracy, but the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision has opened the floodgates for mega-donations and corporate spending in our elections,” said Janet Domenitz, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG). “Spending on political races has skyrocketed. The 2016 election cycle was the most expensive in U.S. history, with almost $6.5 billion spent. We must overturn Citizens United with a constitutional amendment that restores the right of the American people to regulate campaign finance and thereby curb big money in politics. Question 2 on the November ballot moves us in that direction.

“The NAACP fought for the right of freedom of speech and association during the civil rights era at the Supreme Court,” said Paul Craney, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance which opposes the creation of the commission. “The Supreme Court upheld their right and their work to protect our freedoms should be continued to be protected today.”

Here are the official arguments, gathered by the secretary of state, by each side of the question.

IN FAVOR: Written by Jeff Clements of “People Govern, Not Money.” https://voteyeson2ma.org

“Behind our nation’s challenges is a crisis of billionaires and special interests using money to buy access and influence with politicians. These special interests are well-represented, while most Americans are not. The Supreme Court says that laws limiting political spending violate the First Amendment. Most Americans know this is incorrect: Money is not speech, it is power, and concentrated power requires checks and balances. 75 percent of Americans, including liberals and conservatives, support this amendment to correct the court, with 19 states and over 200 Massachusetts communities formally calling for it. This measure creates a non-partisan, unpaid Citizens Commission to be the people’s advocate for this amendment, with commissioners serving at no cost to taxpayers.”

AGAINST: Written by the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance.  www.MassFiscalScorecard.org

“The controversy surrounding the Citizens United decision hinges on our cherished right to Freedom of Speech. In the decision, the court ruled to expand that freedom and apply it equally to all entities and organizations, rather than just the arbitrary list of winners and losers selected by elected officials in previous campaign finance laws. This is a good thing. The First Amendment protection of our freedom of speech is one of the pillars of our democracy and should be preserved and expanded at every possible opportunity. The less government standing in the way of the exercise of that right, the stronger it is. However, even if you disagree with the Citizens United decision, an amendment to the U.S. Constitution is a dangerous and misguided way to go about undoing it. Please vote no on this question.”

More information on Question 2 is available at www.sec.state.ma.us/ele

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