Massachusetts Question 2: A Small Victory Against Big Money In Politics

Jonathan Slate
Nov 12, 2018 · 4 min read

I was proud to play a part in the campaign supporting question 2 on the Massachusetts 2018 ballot, which is part of a larger effort to get big money out of politics. 71.4% of Massachusetts voters chose yes on the question, and that reflects broad support for reigning in the big spenders who have such a massive impact on the conversations about the future of our country.

So what does it do? Now that question 2 has passed, a 15 member commission of citizen volunteers will be formed, with the goal of researching and creating a report that will:

  • Assess the impact of political spending in Massachusetts
  • Explore the ways in which Supreme Court decisions have limited the state’s ability to regulate corporations and other entities
  • Provide recommendations for amendments to the US Constitution, and work to advance such amendments in the US Congress

So it’s just a commission? Yes, but it is a commission created at the will of the overwhelming majority of Massachusetts voters, with members appointed by key members of the state government, with the express intent of creating a 28th Amendment to the US Constitution. This Amendment would assert that corporations are not people, and that Congress shall be allowed to pass legislation limiting campaign contributions.

Once the report has been completed, it will be up to our Massachusetts congressional delegation to bring it to the US Congress. The report will represent the will of the people of Massachusetts. We will be relying on the men and women who represent us to bring our voices forward. Given the role they will play in creating the commission, and the strength of our conviction, I hope that they will be motivated to do so, and with the full weight of their support. If not, they can be assured that the people of Massachusetts will hold them to account.

While some are calling this merely a symbolic victory, I firmly believe that this initiative can play an important role in making progress on this matter. It won’t necessarily be more than symbolic, but it can be, and that will depend entirely on the efforts of the commission and the Massachusetts congressional delegation. The work of this commission will not lead directly to a resolution of the issue of big money in politics. But it is a victory. Or, at the very least, it has the potential to be one. Passing a constitutional amendment is a daunting task, to be sure. It will take many such small victories to bring about the changes we so desperately need.

Do we really need these changes? Yes, absolutely. Whatever issue you care about, be it the environment, corruption in government, criminal justice reform, health care, or whatever else, we will probably not be able to make substantial progress on that issue until we can have honest conversations about it. And such conversations are nearly impossible because we cannot hear each other over the din of clamoring special interests spreading misinformation in the interests of their own agendas.

Those who oppose this effort argue that this is not a black and white issue, and that efforts to reign in the spending of corporations, unions, and other entities could lead to unacceptable infringements on the First Amendment. And they argue that, whatever restrictions are put in place, such groups will find ways to circumvent them anyway.

And they are right. It is not an easy problem to solve. We will have to make sure that any Amendment is based on careful consideration of the effect it will have on the ability we have to make our voices heard, both as citizens, and as members of corporations, unions, and non-profits. And Congress, which will have to create legislation that directly addresses this issue, will have to be prepared to update that legislation as, inevitably, special interests find new and creative ways to get around the rules.

The fact that it is a difficult problem to solve doesn’t change the fact that we need to solve it. And it doesn’t mean that all efforts are doomed to fail. One only needs to look at the aftermath of the Citizens United decision, which gave these groups the ability to pour billions of dollars into political campaigns, to see that rules do matter. This decision and its effects have played a large role in the increased polarization and in the deterioration of our national conversation we have seen in recent years. The Supreme Court changed the rules of the game, and the problem of campaign spending, which was always bad, got much worse. We can, and we must, create new rules, if we ever want it to get better.

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