Tucked between two other headline-making initiatives, a little-hyped question on the Nov. 6 ballot is asking people to take a step — albeit a noncommittal one — toward overturning the controversial Citizens United court decision.
Known as Question 2, the initiative would create a 15-person commission that would be tasked with considering and recommending an amendment to the US Constitution to void the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. The decision was based on the conclusion that political spending is protected speech under the First Amendment.
The commission, meanwhile, would be charged with weighing a constitutional change to “establish that corporations do not have the same constitutional rights as human beings.”
While a “yes” vote would establish the panel, it would not guarantee any amendment actually comes to fruition. The commission would produce a report, which then would be sent to the state Legislature, Congress, and the White House — none of which are required to take action.
But its seemingly innocuous goal is stoking pushback.
Paul Craney, a spokesman for the conservative Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, criticized the makeup of the commission, whose members would be picked by five different elected officials: the governor, secretary of state, attorney general, House speaker, and Senate president.
Each has an inherent interest to produce a report favorable to their interests, argued Craney, who defended the Citizens United decision as giving a range of interests a “clear path” to exercising free speech through political spending.
“The ballot question . . . would empower state lawmakers and a bunch of politicians in Boston to come up with ways to restrict your freedom of speech,” Craney said during a Thursday debate on the ballot question hosted by WBUR, the Globe, and the UMass McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies. “And that should be really troublesome.”
Jeff Clements — president of the Concord nonprofit American Promise, which is backing the question — rejected that, arguing the question directs the elected officials to “seek to ensure that the commission reflects a range of geographic, political, and demographic backgrounds.”
He called establishing the volunteer group a “big step forward” to creating an amendment giving “all Americans free speech.”
“This is not about the politicians,” Clements said. “It’s about whether we, the people, are going to step up and try to repair this democracy.”
The question, to date, has been overshadowed by the debate surrounding two other ballot initiatives: Question 1, a measure that seeks to regulate nurse staffing in hospitals, and Question 3, which asks voters whether Massachusetts should keep the state’s transgender antidiscrimination law.Matt Stout can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @mattpstout