Mass. Senate Republicans: Taking Citizens United Down to the Wire

(Update, July 26, 2012. Today the Senate passed a resolution. The language was neither the original sponsored by Senator Eldridge nor the proposed Republican amendment (a link to these is in the post), but a further compromise version that Senator Eldridge offered today. The House now has until July 31 to act on this issue.)

Will Massachusetts become the seventh state to call on Congress to ratify a Constitutional amendment to undo the poisonous Citizens United case?

Six states — California, Hawaii, Maryland, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Vermont — have already done so. And a Constitutional amendment has already been filed in Congress by U.S. Representative Adam Schiff of California. It says, simply, “Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to forbid Congress or the states from imposing content-neutral limitations on private campaign contributions or independent political campaign expenditures.”

Whether Massachusetts will join the six other states in support of the amendment has lately been in the hands of the four members of the Republican party in the State Senate. They have repeatedly blocked debate on a resolution sponsored by  Senator Jamie Eldridge and others asking Congress to pass “a constitutional amendment to restore the First Amendment and fair elections to the people.”

The Senate Republicans don’t much want to discuss this Citizens United issue and would rather talk to you about Melissa’s Law or EBT cards. Almost the only thing they have revealed about their position so far is that they do not wish to be required to reveal their position.

But there may be a few clues. In order to exercise one opportunity for delay that is available to them under the Senate Rules, they filed an amendment to the resolution and then asked to postpone debate. Senate Rule 31 makes that postponement automatic.

So what does their amendment, which they filed late last month, say? If, like me, you were half expecting the amendment to ask the Congress to keep its grubby mitts off Citizen United, you would have been wrong. There are actually some things (though not all things) that sound good. For example, the amendment acknowledges that “the disparate ability of large organizations such as corporations and unions to spend money may dilute the influence of individual citizens in the democratic process” (OK, we’ll overlook the spurious comparison of the power of corporations with that of unions). And then it goes on to say (emphasis mine):

now be it resolved, that the Massachusetts Senate hereby memorializes the 112th Congress of the United States to ensure voters have an opportunity, including but not limited to voting to ratify a constitutional amendment, that guarantees full and fair participation in the electoral process and the ability to make informed decisions without undue influence from any one group or special interest.

So they’re talking about a constitutional amendment, just for starters? And going beyond that to “guaranteeing…the ability to make informed decisions without undue influence”? Sounds pretty radical, actually.

The Republicans will have to reveal themselves pretty soon. Eternal delay is not provided for under the Senate rules, and the end of formal Legislative sessions is coming next week.

So Dear Senate Republicans: to borrow from When Harry Met Sally, “when you realize you want full and fair participation in the electoral process,” you want that full and fair participation to start as soon as possible, no?  Vote for a resolution already.

The resolution sponsored by Senator Eldridge and the amendment proposed by the Senate Republicans are here.

(PS – Common Cause and other groups are having a press conference tomorrow at 10 at the State House on this and other efforts to undo Citizens United and on other electoral issues.)

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