Siena College's Student Newspaper


Massachusetts Votes to Overturn Citizens United Decision

In the midst of the elections, Massachusetts joins California, Hawaii, New Mexico, Vermont, Rhode Island and Maryland in calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision made by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. This case gives corporations the ability to spend unlimited amounts of money on campaigns. This move was supported not only by representatives, but was actually passed via ballot initiative as Question 2 on the ballot — which allows the people of the state to partake in direct democracy to see the bills they want passed. Since the only way to overturn this decision at the moment is to have a Constitutional amendment,  the fact that the citizens actually passed this initiative makes it more likely that Congress will heed the opinions made in this process.

Citizens United was decided in 2010, in a 5-4 decision. The majority opinion stated that the First Amendment protects political spending as symbolic speech. Since political spending is protected by the First Amendment, which has been extended to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, the federal and state governments cannot restrict government spending in support of or against a specific candidate. That being said, they cannot spend unlimited funds directly to campaigns, but they can spend as much as they want on persuading voters through other means, such as advertisements or communicating with organization members.  This decision was a win for large corporations and wealthy people. That being said, for those who think that the government and elected officials are already corrupt and easily bought, this decision leads to more worry that officials will be even more corrupt and will lessen the impact of the voices of voters.

The result of this passage will be a fifteen-member group, made up of unpaid Massachusetts residents, that will work to figure out the path to overturning this Supreme Court decision. The process they will likely seek is to either have a new case made up to SCOTUS and argue for the changing of precedence, or, more likely, urge Congress to pass a Constitutional amendment that would restrict campaign finance. This process is unique from the other states mentioned, as Massachusetts is the only state to create a committee who will actually work solely on this topic. The law goes into effect on January 1st, and the committee has until the end of the year to present a report examining campaign finances and a proposal as to the language that should be used if an amendment were to be adopted. While there is no guarantee that Congress will listen to their proposal, this is a great step for people who want to protect their voices in government and decrease corruption.

Ironically, there were no funds found to be raised against this proposed bill. The only objections that were made were by people who said that they do not want another committee to spend tax money on, especially one that is largely symbolic. Overall, the majority of the state seems to be behind this initiative, though we have to wait a year to see what comes of this committee.