By Jillian Poland
Background on Question 2:
[Question 2 is a response to the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. This ruling equated any money spent on political issues – such as independent ads and donations to PACs – to free speech, meaning any attempt to regulate money spent by corporations, unions, or other groups would be in violation of their First Amendment rights. Corporations can now fund political campaigns with few limitations.
A “Yes” on Question 2 would authorize the formation of a citizens commission of 15 people that would investigate political spending in Massachusetts and create a report suggesting a Constitutional amendment to prevent “artificial entities” from being afforded the same free speech rights as individuals. This would in essence restrict the ability of corporations, unions, and other groups to contribute to political campaigns.
The commission and the report would only be a small first step, however. Any proposal for a
Constitutional amendment needs the support of 38 states or two-thirds of the House and Senate.
Currently, Massachusetts is the only state officially working toward this goal.]
[Note: While this is not my personal opinion, I will share the arguments against Question 2 in order to allow our readers to make an informed decision.]
The main argument against Question 2 is that it threatens the integrity of free speech, for individuals as well as corporations.
Bradley Smith, founder of the Institute of Free Speech and former FEC chairman, has spoken out against this ballot initiative though he is not from Massachusetts. In an interview with WBUR news, he said, “We protect corporate rights, because that protects the rights of the individual.”
He claims taking away an organization’s right to free speech in politics could threaten other union or corporate rights.
“Then you’re saying a labor union has no constitutional right to speak on behalf of its members,” Smith said. “You’re saying a corporation has no constitutional right to demand a warrant before police search its premises without reason.”
Some say such an amendment could be taken even further, allowing the government to censor movies, books, and other media released by corporations or unions around the time of an election.
Additionally, they claim proposing amendments to the U.S. constitution could set a dangerous
precedent for silencing political voices in the future. In his interview with WBUR, Smith said the Massachusetts ballot question could have a “dangerous ripple effect.”
Paul Craney, a spokesman for the conservative group Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, said in a public debate that passing Question 2 “would empower state lawmakers and a bunch of politicians in Boston to come up with ways to restrict your freedom of speech.”
Beyond the attacks on free speech, opponents claim it is actually in politicians’ best interest to silence corporations.
They claim spending following the Citizens United ruling will make it easier for outside competitors to rise up against incumbents using corporate and union financing that they would not have had before. With more money available, the argument goes, new political players who don’t necessarily have independent access to funds are able to compete on a larger scale.
Those opposed to Question 2 are not overly concerned with corporate spending in politics and see no need to take a stance against it. In this case, any citizen’s right to free speech – be that the individual or the company treated as the individual – is not worth risking in order to keep money out of politics.