Forum aims to unite citizens in overturning Citizens United decision

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PITTSFIELD -- One state representative calls the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizen United decision, which lifted the restrictions on what corporations and unions can spend in elections, the "single biggest threat" to democracy.

On Thursday, the county's legislative delegation and several statewide public interest groups will convene at Barrington Stage Co.'s MainStage to discuss the Jan. 21, 2010, ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and to talk about the effort to overturn the measure through a Constitutional amendment.

"I really believe that this is the single biggest threat to our democracy," said state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier. "When the people's voices are being drowned out by corporate spending, then we don't have a democracy anymore.

"People say that limiting corporate spending in elections tramples on free speech, but I think that it's actually the opposite," Farley-Bouvier said. "Corporate spending in elections is drowning out free speech, and the only way that we can combat it is to band together."

The free presentation, titled "Corporations Are Not People; Money Is Not Speech," runs from 6-8 p.m.

All five of Berkshire County's state lawmakers -- Farley-Bouvier, Rep. Gail Cariddi, Rep. Paul Mark, Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, and Sen. Ben Downing -- have signed on to a bill in the Legislature for the decision to be overturned. Hawaii, New Mexico and Vermont have already passed similar measures. The Massachusetts bill is expected to be taken up by June, Farley-Bouvier said.

Speakers at Thursday's forum will include John Bonifaz of Free Speech for People; Pam Wilmot of Common Cause Massachusetts; and Mark Hays of Public Citizen.

"Each of the participants will outline their particular interest," she said. "There will be question and answer time, and time for people to talk about what they can do in their particular communities."

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Farley-Bouvier said this same group has been holding discussions across the state.

The event is sponsored by the Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT), Common Cause Massachusetts, Corporate Accountability International, Free Speech for People, Coffee Party, Massachusetts Nurses Association, MassPIRG, MassVote, and Public Citizen.

On the federal level, the People's Rights Amendment, sponsored by U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., also seeks to overturn the ruling.

The case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court when Citizens United, a nonprofit corporation that describes itself as "an organization dedicated to restoring our government to citizens' control," was barred from televising a film critical of Hilary Rodham Clinton, who was running for president. Lower courts held that the McCain-Feingold Act prohibited corporations from airing "electioneering" content within a month of the Democratic Primary. Citizens United fought the law to the U.S. Supreme Court. By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that limits on corporate political spending violated the First Amendment's free speech protections.

If you go

Panel presentation: Corporations Are Not People; Money Is Not Speech

When: Thursday, 6-8 p.m.

Where: Barrington Stage, 30 Union St., Pittsfield


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