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BOSTON -- Massachusetts legislators took a big step toward creating a genuine democracy in the United States by introducing the We the People Act (HD 1988). The bill, introduced by state Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and state Rep. Cory Atkins (D-Concord) has 62 cosponsors in the House and 19 in the Senate.
The legislation calls on Congress “to propose an amendment to the U.S. constitution affirming that a) rights protected by the Constitution of the United States are the rights of natural persons, i.e. human individuals, only and b) Congress and the states shall place limits on political contributions and expenditures…” Under the measure, if Congress fails to act within six months of the bill’s passage here, the Massachusetts Legislature will petition Congress to call a convention, under Article V of the Constitution, to propose amendments to the Constitution when two-thirds of the states have applied for a convention. If the measure passes, Massachusetts will become the fourth state to call for a convention, after California, Illinois, and Vermont.
“When corporate dollars flood elections, people’s voices are not only drowned out, but the policies and principles that keep families economically secure begin to erode,” said Senator Eldridge. “Following up on the Citizens United resolution and the Mass Disclose Act, I’m very proud to fight side by side with Rep. Cory Atkins to make it clear that the rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution are for people, and not corporate special interests.”
Added House lead sponsor Rep. Atkins, “Big corporate money poses an immediate threat to our democracy. The integrity of our political system is at stake. This bill sends a strong message that our democracy isn't for sale."
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s infamous 2010 Citizens United decision and the more recent McCutcheon v. FEC, the need for reform is dire. In a recent study, Princeton researchers Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page report that under the current system “mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence" on U.S. government policy.
People across the nation have shown their displeasure. When polled, 83% of Democrats, 73% of Republicans, and 81% of independents said they opposed the Citizens United Decision. Sixty-six percent of small businesses believe that decision is bad for business.
“Americans are tired of standing on the sidelines while corporations and the super-rich call the shots,” said Lee Ketelsen of Move to Amend. “We want fundamental change, and the We the People Act is the best way we can do our part to get it.”
The bill has been endorsed by Alliance for Democracy, Coalition for Social Justice, Mass Senior Action Council, MassVOTE, Move to Amend, MASSPIRG, Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts, Progressive Massachusetts, and Wolf PAC.
“Virtually every time Massachusetts voters have been asked whether they want a democracy amendment to the U.S. Constitution they have said yes, and by wide margins across the political, social, and economic spectrum” added Sara Brady of MassVOTE.
The measure’s introduction comes amid the rise of a democracy movement across the nation, including here in the Bay State. In the last two state elections, 187 cities and towns — over half of the state's 351 — voted in favor of a local ballot question urging Congress to amend the Constitution to assert that constitutional rights are for human individuals only and Congress and the states may place limits on political contributions and spending. The question passed everywhere it appeared on the ballot, with average support of 77%. Combined with the number of towns and cities whose town meetings or local governments have passed resolutions, a total of 208 Massachusetts communities have called for a constitutional amendment.
“Historically, if you need an amendment, this is how you get it. More than half of our amendments have started at the state level, with the states first calling for a convention to propose those amendments. We're not re-inventing the wheel. We’re doing what we know has worked in the past,” said Michael Monetta of Wolf PAC.
“What’s needed now is for citizens to urge their legislators to advance the bill this session,” added Ketelsen. “We’ve got to keep the pressure on. Our democracy depends on it.”
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