Friday October 12, 2012

A non-binding ballot question, dubbed the "Democracy Amend ment" by supporters, will appear on the ballot in all Berkshire County towns, as well as most of the rest of the state, on Election Day, Nov. 6.

If approved, the question would reinforce a resolution approved by state lawmakers in Boston calling on Congress to begin action on a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling that opened the floodgates for big-money campaign contributions by unidentified political action committees, corporations and unions.

The Citizens United ruling, passed by the Supreme Court in 2010 on a 5-4 vote, is blamed by critics for the soaring costs of campaigns on the national and state levels and the flood of negative campaign ads on television.

During a recent civics forum in Becket, 2nd Berkshire District state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, cited the cost of mounting a regional campaign. A candidate in a neighboring county spent $60,000 on a state representative campaign, he said.

"That’s crazy for a job that pays $61,000," Mark told a crowd of 40 residents at Town Hall.

Fourth District state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli spoke of a Dedham state representative who raised $230,000 to win election over a long-term incumbent who spent $210,000.

"It’s out of control," Pignatelli said, noting that he typically allots $25,000 to a re-election effort.

Green Rainbow Party candidate Scott Laugenour said he had been gathering signatures to support the ballot question opposing the Su preme Court ruling that "corporations are people and money is speech," as he put it.

All three politicians strongly urged a "yes" vote on the ballot question. Mark currently represents Becket, but under redistricting, the town will become part of the 4th Berkshire District currently represented by Pignatelli as of Jan. 2.

Laugenour is challenging Pigna telli in the only contested Berkshire race for legislative office this fall.

The proposal will be Question 4 on the ballot in Berkshire towns, except in Dalton, where it’s Question 7 and Great Barrington, where it’s Question 5.

Surveys have shown strong voter support for the "Dem ocracy Amendment," but even if Congress passes a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court decision -- considered increasingly unlikely if Republicans make gains in the House and Senate -- three quarters of the states would have to approve it, also considered a formidable challenge.

The ballot question is as follows: "Shall the state senator or representative from this district be instructed to vote in favor of a resolution calling upon Congress to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution affirming that 1) corporations are not entitled to the constitutional rights of human beings, and 2) both Congress and the states may place limits on political contributions and political spending?"

A "yes" or "no" vote will be indicated on the local ballots.

To reach Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6247.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto.