To see whether Town Meeting will adopt the following resolution:
Resolution concerning a constitutional amendment
to reverse Citizens United and control the influence of money in elections
WHEREAS, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution was intended to protect the free speech rights of people, not corporations, which are entities created by the laws of states and nations;
WHEREAS, the public has a compelling public interest in preventing corruption and the appearance of corruption among elected officials;
WHEREAS, during the past three decades a divided United States Supreme Court has transformed the First Amendment into a powerful tool for corporations seeking to evade and invalidate democratically enacted reforms;
WHEREAS, this corporate misuse of the First Amendment has reached its extreme conclusion in the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, overturning longstanding precedent prohibiting corporations from spending their general treasury funds in federal, state and local elections;
WHEREAS, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United has unleashed a torrent of corporate money in our political process unmatched by any campaign expenditure totals in United States history, e.g., in the 2012 Republican presidential primary “super PACs” made possible by the ruling have outspent the campaigns themselves and have effectively become their advertising arms;1
WHEREAS, the opinion of the four dissenting justices in Citizens United noted that corporations have special advantages not enjoyed by natural persons, such as limited liability, perpetual life and favorable treatment of the accumulation and distribution of assets that allow them to spend prodigious sums on campaign messages;
WHEREAS, the interests of large corporations are often in direct conflict with the essential needs and rights of human beings, and these corporations have used their judicially determined rights to reverse democratically enacted laws passed at the municipal, state and federal levels, rendering elected governments ineffective in protecting their citizens against corporate harm to the environment, public health, and workers’ welfare;
WHEREAS, in 1864 President Abraham Lincoln wrote, “As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the republic is destroyed”;
WHEREAS, the Citizens United ruling thus presents a serious and direct threat to our democracy; and
WHEREAS, the people of the United States have previously used the constitutional amendment process to correct those egregiously wrong decisions of the Supreme Court that go to the heart of our democracy and self-government; Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED that the Town Meeting of Brookline, Massachusetts, calls upon Congress to send to the states for their ratification an amendment to the United States Constitution which restores fair elections by granting to the federal and state governments the authority to regulate the raising and spending of money to influence elections and public policy, to allow public funding of elections, and to establish that corporations do not have free speech rights identical to those of real people; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Town officials shall notify the following of this action by Town Meeting: the President of the United States, the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Brookline’s congressional and state legislative delegations, The Boston Globe and the Brookline TAB.
This resolution asks Congress to send to the states a constitutional amendment that restores to the federal and state governments the authority to regulate contributions and expenditures in elections. and clarifies that corporations do not have free speech rights identical to those of individuals.
In the January, 2010, case Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, the Supreme Court struck down bipartisan federal legislation that had limited corporations from spending their general treasury funds on political expenditures. As a result, for-profit corporations may now spend unlimited amounts to influence elections at all levels of government. Further, by equating unlimited spending to influence elections with free speech, the decision effectively eliminated government’s ability to place any limits on campaign spending.
The Court’s action dramatically dilutes the voice of every American who does not control a large corporate treasury or a vast personal fortune. Corporate lobbyists and other powerful special interests, as well as the extraordinarily rich, are now able to threaten public officials at all levels with the possibility of unending negative campaign ads if their agendas are not supported — and the voices of ordinary citizens are drowned out of the electoral process.
The potential impact on elections is enormous: if ExxonMobil had spent just two percent of its 2008 profits in the last presidential election, it would have outspent presidential candidates McCain and Obama combined.2 Indeed, according to the Washington Post, spending on television ads by groups independent of the campaigns is already five times what it was during the entire Republican primary season four years ago.3 We’re already seeing the avalanche of money resulting from the Citizens United case – by far the largest expenditures in the current Republican primary have been made by the super PAC of the leading candidate4, suggesting that Super PACs have already become kingmakers – and the negative effects will only increase.
For over a century, Congress and the states have limited the role of money in the political process due to its inevitable corrupting influence. This is no less important today.
Before sending a proposed constitutional amendment to the states, Congress must first approve it by a two-thirds vote in both houses. Three-quarters of the state legislatures (38 out of 50) must then ratify the amendment for it to succeed.
(An amendment may also be proposed by a national constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the state legislatures, but this has never happened previously. A third possibility is ratification by conventions in three-quarters of the states. This has occurred only once, when Prohibition was repealed).
1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_action_committee#Super_PACs and http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/03/us/politics/super-pacs-not-campaigns-do-bulk-of-ad-spending.html
Submitted 3/8/12 by Frank Farlow & David Klafter
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