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Letter to the Editor: Town Meeting Resolution for a Constitutional Amendment

One local resident discusses why Town Meeting is an ideal forum for Sharon voters to participate in the national debate about the nature of democracy.

Editor's Note: the following was submitted to Sharon Patch by local resident Paul Lauenstein. 

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that a Federal Election Commission (FEC) limit on fundraising and spending by a political action committee (PAC) called Citizens United was unconstitutional. This ruling effectively opened the floodgates for political fundraising and spending.

Imagine what it’s like to be a member of Congress. Every time you take a position on an issue, you must choose between the best interests of the general public, or the special interests of your campaign donors. If you ignore your donors, you are likely to face a well-funded opponent and an avalanche of attack ads in the next election. 

Negative political advertising undermines public confidence in our elected leaders, and deters qualified candidates from running for office, both of which make it even harder to address the serious problems we are facing as a nation. As long as the Supreme Court’s ruling allows unlimited campaign fundraising, there is nothing the FEC can do about it.

The Supreme Court interpreted the Constitution to mean that artificial entities such as PACs, corporations, unions, and non-profit organizations have the same constitutional rights as people, and that campaign contributions are a form of free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment. Amending the Constitution to establish 1) that only people are entitled to the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, and 2) campaign spending is not a form of speech protected by the First Amendment, would restore the ability of our democratically elected officials to limit and regulate campaign spending. 

Amending the Constitution in this way has broad bi-partisan support. Polls show that over 70 percent of Republicans and over 80 percent of Democrats support a constitutional amendment that would allow limits on campaign fundraising and spending

Last summer, Massachusetts called for such an amendment. The Senate vote was 35-1. The voice vote in the House was unanimous.

In the latest elections, a ballot question to overturn the Citizens United decision, which appeared in 170 towns in Massachusetts, passed by an average of 79 percent. Montana and Colorado passed similar resolutions by wide margins, bringing the total number of states calling for a constitutional amendment to 11. 

Over 70 communities in Massachusetts have already passed resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to reverse the Citizens United v. FEC decision, in order to enable campaign finance reform and reduce the corrupting influence of money in politics. Hopefully, Sharon will add its voice to this chorus.

We The People, through our elected representatives, should be free to determine the character of the democracy that governs our daily lives, and for which many have made the ultimate sacrifice. The Supreme Court’s decision to block the Federal Election Commission from limiting campaign spending undermines that freedom. It gives special interests the right to raise and spend unlimited sums of money to influence elections, fundamentally corrupting the nature of our democracy. The proposed constitutional amendment itself would not directly affect campaign fundraising, but it would free Congress and the states to set limits on campaign contributions in order to give real people a more equal voice in our democracy.

A 28th Amendment would help restore the kind of government of the people, by the people, and for the people envisioned by the framers of the Constitution, who themselves worried about the threat to our democracy posed by powerful special interests. As Thomas Jefferson put it, "I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country."

Why is this issue appropriate for Sharon Town Meeting?

As Tip O’Neill famously said, “All politics is local.”

Town Meeting is an ideal forum for Sharon voters to participate in the national debate about the nature of our democracy. Our elected leaders pass laws that affect our daily lives. They should vote for our best interests, not special interests. If we cannot spare a few minutes for democracy at Town Meeting, we should not complain about the government we get.

We must regain the ability to limit the flood of cash that is distorting our politics. Please vote for this resolution at Town Meeting on Monday, Dec. 3, and send a message to the Supreme Court and the nation that we here in Sharon support a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

For more on this, see the nine-minute video "The Story of Citizens United v. FEC” at storyofstuff.org/movies-all/story-of-citizens-united-v-fec.

Also, check out movetoamend.org and sign their petition. 

Actual language of Town Meeting Warrant Article #10:

To see if the Town will vote to adopt the following resolution: To call upon the United States Congress to pass and send to the States for ratification an amendment to the Constitution of the United States that would firmly establish two principles:

1) Only human beings, not artificial entities such as corporations, are entitled to the rights and privileges guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.

2) Election spending is not free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment, and is therefore subject to regulation by federal and state governments.

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