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Update on the We the People Act: Sent to Study

by Dianna Vosburg
August 20, 2016

Who is paying for the ads we see on TV? To whom will our representatives be beholden? The good news is that we can do something about this spectacle of waste and corruption.

 

As we approach November’s election and start to think about the midterms in two years, let’s take a step back and look at the systemic problem we have with big (and often dark) money in politics. Who is paying for the ads we see on TV? To whom will our representatives be beholden? The good news is that we can do something about this spectacle of waste and corruption.

A group of Holliston residents have been advocating for a bill, called the We the People Act, which was filed in Massachusetts this last legislative session.

Supported by a large coalition of pro-democracy groups and whose principles a majority of Holliston residents support (as shown by a recent ballot initiative), the We the People Act seeks to reform campaign finance by:

  1. Calling on Congress to propose an amendment to the US Constitution. This amendment would assert that the rights protected by the Constitution are the rights of human beings only. Congress and the states can limit political contributions and expenditures to ensure that all citizens have access to the political process, and the spending of money to influence elections is not protected free speech under the First Amendment.
     
  2. If Congress fails to propose such an amendment within six months, the We the People Act would put Massachusetts on record calling for an amendment convention of the states for the specific purpose of proposing this amendment.

The US Supreme Court, in Citizens United v. FEC and other rulings, has given corporations and other artificial entities constitutional rights that our Founders intended only for real human beings. Using the Bill of Rights, super wealthy individuals and corporations have persuaded the courts to overturn state and federal campaign finance laws and many other democratically enacted laws protecting our health, safety, environment, and democracy. Declaring that money spent to influence elections is somehow the same as “free speech” allowed a tsunami of special interest money to flood elections.

We see the effects when we pay our taxes, but large and extremely profitable corporations do not. We see the effects when we have to raise local property taxes for the schools while we cut programs, but oil companies receive gigantic subsidies. Over and over again, Congress sides with their big-money donors and corporate lobbyists over the preferences and needs of ordinary citizens. That is anti-democratic and it makes our daily lives that much harder.

Many legal scholars agree. In order to overturn Citizens United and other Supreme Court decisions around campaign finance, we need an amendment to the Constitution, clarifying that the Bill of Rights was written for actual, living people and that we the people have the right—and the responsibility—to ensure, democratically, an uncorrupted system of campaign finance.

It was therefore disappointing to hear that the We the People Act was sent to study at the end of this last legislative session. While we had strong support from Senators on the committee, we also had some opposition from some House members.

We are gearing up to refile this critical good-governance bill in the next legislative session. We won’t win the change we need without active support of every concerned voter. If you agree that we must reform our campaign finance system, please sign up to help at www.wethepeoplemass.org. We could use even more active voter support across districts. Talk to your friends and family around the state, and share the link.

Our own Sen. Karen Spilka and Rep. Carolyn Dykema are co-sponsors of this act. Thank you! Please let them know if you appreciate their support for the We the People Act.

 

 

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