Three questions with Jeffrey Clements

By Patrick Ball/Staff Writer, GateHouse News Service

Concord — The Massachusetts Corporate Political Accountability Act is strong start but doesn’t fix the problem created by the Citizens United decision, according to Concord lawyer Jeffrey Clements.

Along with the legislation — filed June 21 by state Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, state Rep. Cory Atkins, D-Concord, and Rep. William Straus, D-Bristol — the Free Speech for People.org resolution calling on Congress to amend the Constitution to put people ahead of corporations was unveiled this week on Beacon Hill.

“Senator Eldridge and Representative Atkins are aware that this legislation is important, but we also need to tackle on the bigger problem,” said Clements, who is chief counsel for the national Free Speech for People campaign. “We’re grateful that they’re also taking the lead in our Massachusetts legislature calling for a constitutional amendment.”Clements has been interested in corporate rights since the mid-1990s, when he was with the Attorney General’s office defending Massachsuetts’ tobacco regulations. Not long after returning to private practice from Coakley’s office, Clements found himself filing an Amicus brief representing five citizens group in the Citizens United case.

What are the key points of this legislation?

The Massachusetts Corporate Political Accountability Act is an excellent piece of legislation because it’s so necessary after the Citizens United case. What Citizens United did was say that corporations have the same rights as people … and it’s radical and dangerous because it releases billions and billions of dollars of corporate money into our political system, which already is challenged by special interests and corporations having much more say than the average person. The court says we can’t regulate corporate money in politics or restrict corporate expenditures to influence the outcome of elections. Well, this legislation says, “We’re going to do whatever we can within the restrictions the Supreme Court has given us.’ The legislation requires disclosure, it requires shareholder approval, so it gives some accountability and transparency to the corporate money that’s going to pour into politics. At least people will know if there’s a candidate that’s supported or opposed by the big spending corporations, they can at least connect the dots and put that into account in deciding how they’re going to vote.

This is about accountability, but you want to take it further.

It’s very necessary for the short term to deal with the situation the Supreme Court has created, but it doesn’t fix the problem entirely nor can it, because the Supreme Court has said the Constitution prevents us from fixing the problem. According to the Supreme Court, corporations are like people so we’re not allowed to regulate political activity in terms of independent expenditures of corporation money. This legislation has to take that into account, but ‘We the People’ don’t. We have a process for responding when the court does something that’s radical, dangerous and against basic American principles of liberty and self-government. It’s called amending the Constitution, and we’ve done that 27 times before. Amending the Constitution over and over again created the democracy we know today. Citizens United requires us to do it again. If we want to keep democracy for the people not the corporations, we need to amend the Constitution. That’s what we aim to do with Free Speech for People.

What does the campaign have going on across the country?

This is a building movement. And what’s really encouraging was to see literally millions of Americans standing up for democracy and signing up for amendment campaigns. We’ve got efforts in most states and we have over eight states now have introduced resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment. The interesting thing is, this is not partisan in any way. According to poll after poll, well over 75 percent of independents, Democrats, Republicans have the same view about. And that’s the kind of sign that you usually get when amendments are timely, when it’s a broad American consensus about what we need to do. We are growing rapidly and we expect virtually all of the states in the union will have similar efforts before too long.

 

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