Letter: Citizen United ballot question skipped the details

The Gazette’s summary of the Nov. 6 election gave a good overview of the issues we faced that day, but the descriptions of the Citizens United case and the corresponding ballot question missed the mark on key points. (“JP voters favor liberal candidates, causes,” Nov. 23.) The crux of the case wasn’t about “independent political donations” as described, but on independent expenditures to fund “electioneering communications.” The argument was about what broadcasts an independent group could air if those broadcasts mention a candidate rather than what money it could donate to a political campaign. As for the ballot question we’d considered, it wasn’t simply to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision on that issue. It was to suggest amending the Constitution to fundamentally restructure how such issues are considered in the first place.

These distinctions made all the difference in my voting no on Question 5. Much of the news coverage I’ve read about the Supreme Court decision implies that it invented the concept of corporate personhood out of thin air just a few years ago, leading to a situation that urgently needs correcting through a constitutional amendment. But it’s that legal concept that has traditionally covered organizations of citizens in corporate form under some of the same protections we have as individuals—which as an idea isn’t anything new. This principle has very broad coverage, from nonprofits to for-profit corporations to labor unions, from the NRA to the ACLU to the AFL-CIO.

We’re drifting farther and farther from the original issue of campaign finance reform and into uncharted and dangerous territory. We still have plenty of tools at our disposal for supporting fair and just elections; are we really prepared to make such sweeping changes in a constitutional amendment, all in an effort to limit what commercials corporations can air during campaigns? This is a topic that calls for caution, but an amendment would represent about as much restraint as a blow from a sledgehammer. For everyone rallying behind the slogan, “Corporations aren’t people,” I’d urge taking a closer look at the details and listening to both sides of such a complex debate.

Jesse Connell

Jamaica Plain

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