Local government in towns such as Stoughton doesn’t usually have the luxury of getting involved in national issues. Most town officials in Massachusetts are focused on the kinds of nuts-and-bolts work that ensure that we have schools that provide our children with quality education, a police force we can be proud of, conservation land we can enjoy, a bond credit rating we don’t have to worry about. These things take time, energy, diligent study, and working through the sometimes tedious democratic process to achieve. We ordinarily tend, quite rightly, to leave state and federal issues to those we’ve elected to represent us at those levels. (Town Meeting takes up enough time as it stands ... did someone say "MORE than enough?")
So you know something big is afoot when Stoughton joins with seventy (and counting!) communities across the Commonwealth to take a stand on a Supreme Court decision. The Stoughton Select Board did just that on Tuesday night, voting 4-1 to endorse a resolution, placed by the Stoughton Democratic Town Committee, urging our Senators and Congressman to support the “move to amend” the United States Constitution and thereby overturn the 2010 Court decision (Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission) that removed virtually all restrictions on the ability of corporations, unions, and uber-wealthy individuals to peddle their influence on the electoral process by flooding elections with the kind of money you and I can’t match. And I don't need to tell you what they're buying.
The Citizens United decision, rendered in 2010, struck down provisions in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (“McCain-Feingold,” 2002) (and overturned a District Court ruling) and stated that, for all practical purposes, “associations of people”—read “corporations”—have the same rights as do individuals. The trouble is, of course, that they have more money. A lot more money. And money they are very happy to spend to purchase access and, ultimately, control both executive powers and legislative votes.
Worse yet, an ensuing District Court ruling (Speechnow.org vs. FEC) determined that the Court’s decision also removed barriers to individual contributions to election-related activity, so long as they are not contributed directly to campaigns—thereby creating the abhorrent “Super-PACs” whose outlandish influence has already been seen in the Republican presidential primary. Individual billionaires are now lavishing literally tens of millions of dollars each on campaign-related activity, validating Justice Steven’s dissent:
“A democracy cannot function effectively when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold.”
He was correct: it can’t, they do, and they are.
The "move to amend" has been proposed by various Senators and Congresspeople in both the Capitol and in statehouses across the country (six states have already endorsed it). The language differs in each case. But the gist of all these resolutions/acts are the same, as summed up in one line of the resolution our Select Board adopted last night: "opposing the perceived corporate control of elections and urging Congress to amend the United States Constitution and ban corporate personhood."
As I said, the resolution was introduced before the Select Board by a member of the Stoughton Democratic Town Committee, which adopted it last month. But this isn’t, and shouldn’t be treated as, a partisan issue:
- John McCain was one of the first to criticize the Supreme Court decision.
- One of the bills to amend the Constitution in the House is co-sponsored by Massachusetts Representative Jim McGovern (Dem) and (Republican) North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones.
- Some Republicans in the MA State House have joined with their Democratic counterparts in signing on to a resolution calling for a national amendment. In fact, Democratic State Senator Jamie Eldridge has taken the lead on a "move to amend" bill in the State Senate, and his likely competitor in his own upcming Senate race, Dean Cavaretta (Republican-Stow), while not specifically endorsing Eldridge's bill, has stated that “`There is too much money in politics, and I've been very clear on the need to reform campaign finance laws on all sides,' including abolishing Super PACs."
- And, of course, both Senator Scott Brown and challenger Elizabeth Warren have agreed to eschew Super-PAC money in their race for Senate. And with good reason, since polls have shown 80% of Americans nationally opposing the ruling.
Certainly, local government needs to be judicious when it comes to national policy. It isn’t necessarily our strong point, nor is it always within our purview. Nor should it, as a body, be at all involved in partisan politicking. Or spending time debating national issues (before anyone questions priorities, note that the Select Board, which had a relatively light agenda, dispensed with this posthaste and moved on to other business). But sometimes, laws are passed and decisions rendered that are so egregious, that fly so directly in the face of common sense and the most fundamental principles of democracy, that they cry out for organized grassroots action, which is why so many communities in the Commonwealth are doing what our Board did.
We’re all well aware that our town’s future is inextricably bound up with decisions made on the state and national level. And while we certainly disagree on how many of those issues should be resolved, we can, I think, all agree that at the very least, it’s “we the people” who should be resolving them—and that our voices ought not to be drowned out by the ability of wealthy elites, from either party, to use their surplus cash to change the conversation and determine the outcome of both elections and legislation.
So I’m pleased and very proud that our Select Board saw fit to take this stand and to endorse this resolution, joining with Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Greens and others across the Commonwealth who recognize the critical importance of ensuring that your voice and mine carries as much weight as that of any billionaire or corporation.
We are the 99%. And we will be heard.