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Janet Domenitz Headshot

In The Public Interest : Money Changes Everything

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It's a good bet that Cyndi Lauper was not anticipating the U.S. Supreme Court's actions when she sang "Money Changes Everything" back in 1984. But that could well be the theme song for the Court's January decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in which they ruled that corporations and unions are to be treated as people with equivalent rights to spend money in elections. The court's majority in Citizens United changed a century-old doctrine in election law, ruling that the campaign finance restrictions violated the First Amendment's free speech principles, basically equating speech and money, and giving a green light to unlimited spending by corporations, big business and unions.

I would imagine that my United States Senator, Scott Brown, knows a little something about this. In his race earlier this year for the open Senate seat in Massachusetts, 2.7 million dollars in independent expenditures were made - more than two-thirds of that amount targeting him. While we know how MUCH is spent on independent expenditures, it's very difficult to verify WHO is behind this money. And all signs points to the Citizens United decision opening the floodgates to a tidal wave of independent expenditures. If nothing is done, we'll be drowning AND blindfolded while special-interest cash overwhelms our elections.

As we head full tilt into the fall election season, we need Senator Brown to stand up for Bay Staters - and the country - and throw us a life raft. While it's too late to change the rules for this election, it's not too late to restore at least some integrity for the next. In June, the House of Representatives passed the DISCLOSE Act, (H.R. 5175), a measure with the simple goal of requiring corporations and other businesses to report all election expenditures. Senator Brown has been swimming against this tide. In July, when the Senate was considering taking up the DISCLOSE Act for a vote, Senator Brown said in a statement "... the DISCLOSE Act changes the rules in the middle of the game." But now the DISCLOSE Act, if approved by the Senate before their fall recess, would not take effect until the 2012 elections. So, we ask Senator Brown to "cowboy up" (for those of you not from Red Sox nation, this loosely translates as "suck it up and get back on the saddle") and push for this bill to come to the floor and vote in favor.

Of course, this is not just about Massachusetts. Voters across the country will not be able to judge for themselves whether they can trust what they see, read, and hear in election campaigns. And that will only aggravate the already dismally low faith people have in their government.

As Ms. Lauper eerily predicted, "It's all in the past now ... money changes everything." With Senator Scott Brown's support of DISCLOSE, at least we will be able to see what's changing.

The Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG) is a statewide non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization. MASSPIRG is one of 26 state Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), and is a part of U.S. PIRG, the federation of state PIRGs.

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