Legislative Hearing Scheduled on Bills to Protect Massachusetts Elections

“Almost a decade after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the results have been disastrous as foreign corporate money and the pooled wealth of super PACs have swamped the voices of the American people and corrupted our democracy. With the passage of these bills to end the influence of super PACs and foreign money on Massachusetts elections, the Legislature can begin to restore Massachusetts elections to the people and make Massachusetts a clean and fair election model for the nation.” – Ben Clements, Chair of the Board, Free Speech For People

State Legislators Seek to End Super PACs and Foreign Corporate Money in the State’s Elections

The Massachusetts Joint Committee on Elections Laws will hold a hearing on Wednesday, May 15th on two bills that would abolish super PACs and prohibit spending by foreign-influenced corporations in Massachusetts elections. Advocates planning to testify at the hearing include Ron Fein, Legal Director of Free Speech For People, and Pam Wilmot, the Executive Director of Common Cause Massachusetts.

S.418, presented by Senator Mark Montigny and co-sponsored by Senator Jo Comerford, will require corporations that spend money in Massachusetts elections to certify they are not foreign-influenced, or owned in whole or a significant part by foreign entities. Representatives Josh Cutler and Harold Naughton, Jr. have introduced the House versions of this bill, as H.640 and H.703, respectively. The other bill will establish limits on contributions to political action committees, thereby abolishing super PACs in state elections. Senator Comerford and Representative Michael Day have introduced this bill in the Senate and House, respectively, as S.394 and H.642.

In March 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in SpeechNow.org v. FEC opened the door to super PACs by holding that the federal law limiting contributions to political committees to $5,000 per person each year did not apply to a political committee that promised to make only “independent expenditures.”  While some federal appellate circuits have followed the SpeechNow ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which has jurisdiction over federal cases in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, and Rhode Island, has not yet ruled on this question, nor has the U.S. Supreme Court or the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

Alongside the rise of super PACs, the nation has also witnessed foreign corporate money flowing into our elections as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which swept away longstanding precedent barring corporate money in our political process.  For example, in May 2016, Uber teamed up with fellow ride-hailing service Lyft to drench Austin, Texas, in $9 million worth of election spending in the hope of overturning a city law requiring drivers to submit to fingerprint-based criminal background checks. Then, just weeks later, Uber disclosed an unprecedented $3.5 billion investment from the Saudi Arabian government, meaning that the Saudi Kingdom owns more than five percent of the company, along with a seat on its board of directors.  In 2014, Chevron spent over $3 million backing city council and mayoral candidates in Richmond, Calif. Chevron— a multinational corporation whose stock ownership changes by the minute — was at the time facing a multimillion-dollar lawsuit from the city over a refinery fire that caused more than 15,000 people to seek medical treatment.

Free Speech For People, a national non-profit public interest organization founded on the day of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, helped to draft the new bills now pending before the Massachusetts Legislature.  The organization also helped to draft the St. Petersburg, Florida ordinance, the first of its kind in the country, on which the Massachusetts bills are based.

Click here to download the full press release.

Click here to learn more about the Massachusetts legislation to end super PACs and foreign-influenced corporate money in elections.

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