Town Meeting Member Guide

(UPDATE: Town Meeting PASSED this resolution in May 2012! We leave this information up here as an aid to people looking to catch up and/or other towns considering Citizens United resolutions)

We are posting info here of interest to Town Meeting Members seeking to inform themselves about this issue in preparation for their vote. See more RESOURCES AND INFORMATION here.

Click to Navigate to Different Sections:

What is the Citizens United Ruling? [top]

The Supreme Court ruled that political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. While corporations or unions may not give money directly to campaigns, they may seek to persuade the voting public through other means, such as media. MORE INFORMATION HERE: “What is Citizens United?”

Consequences of the Ruling: [top]

  1. Invalidated state and federal laws, such as McCain/Feingold, that sought to protect our electoral process and governance from the influences of corporate money.  SEE ALSO: Trevor Potter on FreshAir
  2. Took power away from Congress to make regulatory distinctions between the use of personal funds, on the one hand, and corporations and unions use of treasury funds, on the other.
  3. Allows wealthy corporations to pour unlimited funds into the political process without transparency.

Potential effects of Corporate and  Union money in the Political System: [top]

  1. Political indebtedness and a situation where politicians become dependent upon pleasing big money interests.
  2. Undermine the democratic values that gave birth to this country by drowning out citizens’ voices in the political arena.

What does the Resolution in Article 23 propose? [top]

Article 23 asks that Town Meeting Members vote to instruct the MA Legislature and Congress to address the corrupting influence of unregulated and unlimited monies in our campaigns, by calling for a Constitutional Amendment to overturn the 2010 “Citizens United v. FEC” Supreme Court decision.

Other Towns and States that have passed similar Resolutions: [top]

At the time of writing, 25 28 39 45 Massachusetts municipalities have approved resolutions similar to Needham’s Article 23, and 26 more municipalities are in the process of consideration.

In April, 2012, the Vermont legislature, in response to the passage of 64 Town Meeting resolutions, and with bipartisan support, passed a state resolution calling for a Constitutional amendment to address “Citizens United,” joining New Mexico and Hawaii.

The Massachusetts legislature and, at the time of writing, 8 other states legislatures have similar resolutions pending; we are part of a larger grassroots recognition and call to action to save our Republic. We hope Massachusetts, true to our long tradition of fighting for individual freedom, will become the fourth state legislature to vote for an amendment.

Why is this a matter for Town Meeting? [top]

  1. See Also: LOCAL IMPACT AND THE ROLE OF TOWN MEETINGS
  2. New England Town Meeting is the historical site of important national questions dating back to the American Revolution, and has long been the bulwark of the people’s liberty. SEE ALSO: Town Meeting Should Decide/James Hugh Powers
  3. Town Meeting is the most representative branch of government, by which citizens can make demands to higher levels of government. It is especially appropriate for town meeting to represent its citizenry in cases where citizens’ rights are affected, as is the case in Citizens United.
  4. Although the United States Constitution, in Article V, provides a legislative process for amending the constitution, traditionally the call for an amendment begins at the ground level.  This was certainly the case in movements like Suffrage, where citizens’ actions, in the face of institutional complacency, forced the issue to be addressed.
  5. The Citizens United v FEC decision does not just affect Federal elections. The rules are the same for state and local elections. There is no law barring big corporate or union interests from spending unlimited amounts in a race for Selectman in a small town. It only takes a modest amount of money to have a transformative impact on a local election. Consider the potential for casino interests–or liquor store chains–to pump outside money into a local race in order to buy favorable votes on zoning. [See also: SuperPACs and Local Races]
  6. Citizens United poses too great a threat to our liberty for Needham to remain silent.
  7. Citizens United is a non-partisan issue, and is not a partisan politicization of our town meeting.   The problem of corporate money in politics has made corporations more important than citizens to our government.  Overwhelming majorities of Independents, Republicans and Democrats approve  of an amendment process to overturn Citizens United. [See also: Opinion Polls/Public Sentiment]
  8. See also–various posts on Town Meeting

[UPDATE] [top] The text of Article 23 has been amended for clarity from its original, with additional/further changes since Warrant Meeting (April 30). The Substitute Main Motion currently reads as elsewhere on this site, and as follows:

To see if the Town will vote the following resolution or take any other action relative thereto;

Whereas the expenditure of unlimited corporate and union general treasury funds to influence elections threatens to overwhelm our individual voices in our electoral and governing processes, and

Whereas the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5:4 ruling on January 21, 2010 in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission took away the long-standing power of Congress to place limits on corporate and union spending to influence elections, and

Whereas the Court’s decision in Citizens United applies to state and local elections, as well as to federal elections, and so makes real the threat that corporate and union expenditures will dominate state and local elections,

Now, therefore, let it be resolved that this Town Meeting calls upon the Massachusetts delegation to the US Congress to support an amendment to the US Constitution which  would overturn the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, and

Be it further resolved that this Town Meeting calls upon our State Legislature to seek the support of the US Congress for an amendment to the US Constitution which would overturn the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United,

Or take any other action relative thereto.

[top]

4 thoughts on “Town Meeting Member Guide

  1. Pingback: Patch: Board of Selectman Votes 3-2 to Support Citizens United Warrant Article at Town Meeting | we the people | needham

  2. Pingback: Town Meeting starts Tonight! | we the people | needham

  3. Pingback: Article 23 Vote Tonight at Needham Town Meeting | we the people | needham

  4. Pingback: Constitutional Amendment: An Overwhelmingly Popular Idea | we the people | needham

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