(Boston, MA) – Many Massachusetts voters will see a question on the November ballot asking their opinion on big money in politics and whether corporations should have the same constitutional rights as people. That’s because activists of the Democracy Amendment Coalition of Massachusetts (DACMA) this week submitted to Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin nearly 20,000 signatures from registered voters to place a question on the 2012 ballot. The ballot question instructs state legislators to pass a state resolution calling on Congress to propose a Constitutional amendment affirming that (1) corporations are not entitled to the same constitutional rights as human beings, and (2) Congress and the States may place limits on political contributions and spending.
Since May, Common Cause Massachusetts, Move to Amend and other members of DACMA have collected signatures throughout the Commonwealth. According to the coalition, voters in 33 state representative and 6 state senate districts, approximately thirty-five percent of the state’s voters, will have the opportunity to vote on this question in the fall. The districts comprise 178 communities and are located in Essex County, Metrowest, the Cape and Islands, Western Massachusetts, and parts of Boston. For a full list of districts and municipalities, click here.
“Common Cause members and activists affiliated with many different organizations across the state have worked very hard collecting all these signatures,” said Pam Wilmot of Common Cause Massachusetts. “This is truly a grassroots effort by volunteers alarmed by the Citizens United decision and fed up with big money in politics and an increasingly dysfunctional democracy. People from all across the Commonwealth from all backgrounds have taken up the cause and brought it to their local officials, town meetings, and now to the 2012 ballot. The community response has been terrific. Many people couldn’t wait to sign our petition.”
Lee Ketelsen of Move to Amend said, "Voter instruction through ballot questions is one of the few forms of real democracy not superseded by super PACS. Using a tradition dating back to the passage of the 17th Amendment, we can help restore our democracy, not just by limiting campaign spending, but by preventing corporations from exercising rights intended solely for We the People."
The ballot question campaign is just one component of a much larger nationwide movement to rid elections of special interest money and affirm that corporations are not entitled to the same constitutional rights as human beings. Citizens have already qualified a similar measure for the statewide ballot in Montana drafted by Common Cause and Free Speech for People and reformers are circulating petitions in Colorado to qualify a statewide measure there as well.The movement started in response to the Court’s ruling in Citizens United v FEC (2010), which extended constitutional protection to corporate entities and swept away a century of legal precedent barring corporate money in elections.
To date, over 300 communities across the country have passed local resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment, including major cities such as Boston, Los Angeles and New York. With 68 municipalities having passed resolutions, Massachusetts is one of the states leading the effort.
“As the super-rich and giant corporations spend billions to dominate our elections, we know things will only get worse unless we act now. The people are demanding an amendment state by state. Massachusetts will join them.” said Davio Danielson, a DACMA activist in western Massachusetts.
Six states – California, Hawaii, Maryland, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Vermont – have called for Congress to propose a constitutional amendment redressing the kinds of problems Massachusetts voters are now speaking up about. Resolutions at the state level are being considered in many other states, including Massachusetts (S.772). Eleven state attorneys general, led by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, have written to Congress urging action. In addition, 22 state attorneys general urged the Supreme Court to uphold a Montana law challenging Citizens United, which the Court declined to do in a decision last month.
“The voice of the people is clear, and getting louder every day,” Avi Green, co-director of MassVOTE said, Politics should be for people, not corporations. Our democracy should not be for sale. We must amend.”
About Citizens United: In a 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (2010), the US Supreme Court overturned decades old campaign finance legislation restricting independent expenditures by corporations, unions, and other special interests in elections. The decision has unleashed a torrent of corporate money in elections and reduced transparency in political spending. The amount of money spent in elections as a result of the decision continues to increase and has negatively impacted federal, state, and local races. The ruling has also dramatically expanded a “corporate rights” doctrine that has distorted First Amendment jurisprudence by expanding constitutional protections to corporate entities.
About the Democracy Amendment Coalition of Massachusetts: DACMA is a loose affiliation of local, state and national organizations working on a Constitutional amendment to establish fair elections and turn back the “corporate rights” doctrine. Members include Common Cause Massachusetts, Corporate Accountability International, Free Speech for People, the Greater Boston Coffee Party, MassVOTE, MASSPIRG, Move to Amend, local chapters of the Occupy movement, Public Citizen, Rootstrikers, and other organizations.