The Congressional Race Starts With A Money Fight

And they’re off in the race to replace Ed Markey.

By | Boston Daily |

First, let’s establish for the record that Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian was a declared candidate in the 5th District congressional special election for a full 27 hours before sending out his first direct attack on a fellow candidate. So, this should shape up to be a fun few months.

Here’s what’s happened in the race to replace Ed Markey this week, now that Markey has actually won the US Senate special election: State senator Karen Spilka, who was already a confessed candidate, held a campaign kickoff event Monday evening. To step on her story, Koutoujian, who was an unadmitted but fully functional candidate, announced his candidacy Monday morning via press release and web video. To step on both of their stories, openly admitted candidate state senator Will Brownsberger issued a challenge for his fellow Democratic candidates to join him in a “People’s Pledge,” a la Brown-Warren, but with the addition of a ban on accepting contributions from PACs and lobbyists—sort of a “Pledge Plus” or “Next-Gen Pledge” or “New Pledge With The Added Power Of OxiClean!” To step on Brownsberger’s story, state senator and long-time open candidate state senate Katherine Clark put out a brief statement in response, noting that “… she has a strong record of standing up for campaign finance reform and against the misguided Citizens United decision.” This (and less subtle whisperings from several campaigns) were meant to remind reporters that Belmont Billy once cast the sole dissenting vote against a meaningless, feel-good resolution calling on the US Congress to fix the US Constitution to undo the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling on campaign funding.

Apparently Koutoujian wants to extend the story of stepping on Brownsberger’s story, because he put out a release today announcing that he finds Brownsberger’s vote on the resolution “troubling.” That is, I believe, the sheriff’s first position taken in the campaign. (Well, to be fair, in his web video, I believe he came out strongly against people’s children being killed in ATV accidents.)

I do find it troubling that Brownsberger isn’t a bright enough pol to know that you’re supposed to vote “Yea” on meaningless, feel-good resolutions, especially when you’re the only one voting against it. But saying that such a vote is troubling—so troubling you have to send out a release about your troubled mind—is just ridiculous posturing. (Text of the full resolution at the end of this post.)

On Monday, I had been all prepared to mock Brownsberger for his ULTRA-Pledge, which I think is unworkable, holier-than-thou, and pretty much seems designed not to lead to a deal but to allow him to beat up the other candidates for being less pure.

But instead, I got on the phone this afternoon and had a long conversation with Brownsberger to discuss his views on Citizens United and campaign finance law. His views are nuanced, which does him no good at all. On the resolution, he says that the hyperbolic call to save our democracy from the tyrannical Supreme Court carries serious risk of overreach, endangering very real first-amendment rights in the process—which would be easy to agree with, if this resolution were likely to actually somehow lead to actual passage of a Constitutional Amendment. I mean, it’s hard to justify being worried that something that will affect absolutely nothing in any way whatsoever poses a danger of going too far.

As to his Pledge MACH II, Brownsberger contends that the way to really get the pernicious influence of money out of politics is for voters to choose candidates who personally abide by self-regulating rules to not accept contributions from those who would have business before them in office. ”It’s not a legal system fix that’s needed, it’s an integrity fix,” he said. That’s a pretty good line.

Personally, I’m not particularly convinced that Brownsberger’s self-imposed rules are necessarily more integrity-ensuring than the self-imposed rules used by the other candidates in this race—but that’s a reasonable topic to put forward to the voters. Not necessarily right for a “pledge,” but reasonable for discussion and comparison.

Unfortunately for Belmont Billy, my reading of the Democratic primary voting electorate these days is that A) they think Citizens United is the work of Satan, and B) interest groups, particularly ones they belong to (labor unions, environmental groups, etc.) should absolutely be pouring resources into helping Democrats get elected. So, that might be a tough sell for him.

Below is the resolution in question from the July, 26, 2012, state senate minutes, where it was actually presented in ALL CAPS as if they were screaming at the Massachusetts congressional delegation:

WHEREAS, FOR THE PAST 3 DECADES, A DIVIDED UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT HAS STRETCHED THE LIMITS OF THE FIRST AMENDMENT TO ALLOW FOR CORPORATIONS, UNIONS, POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEES AND SUPER POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEES TO INFLUENCE THE POLITICAL PROCESS AND DEMOCRATICALLY-ENACTED REFORMS; AND
WHEREAS, THE FIRST AMENDMENT HAS BEEN GREATLY IMPACTED BY THE UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT’S RECENT RULING IN CITIZENS UNITED V. THE FEDERAL ELECTIONS COMMISSION; AND
WHEREAS, THE UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT’S RULING IN CITIZENS UNITED OVERTURNED LONGSTANDING PRECEDENT PROHIBITING THESE INTERESTS FROM SPENDING GENERAL TREASURY FUNDS IN DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS; AND
WHEREAS, THE UNITED STATES SUPREME COURT’S RULING IN CITIZENS UNITED WILL ALLOW SPECIAL INTERESTS LIMITLESS AND UNPRECEDENTED CAMPAIGN SPENDING AND THUS DISPROPORTIONATE INFLUENCE, THREATENING THE FAIRNESS OF THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS; AND
WHEREAS, THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES HAVE PREVIOUSLY USED THE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT PROCESS TO OVERTURN SUPREME COURT DECISIONS THAT PRESENT A RISK TO THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS AND SELF GOVERNMENT; NOW THEREFORE BE IT
RESOLVED, THAT THE MASSACHUSETTS SENATE HEREBY MEMORIALIZES THE 112TH CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES TO PASS AND SEND TO THE STATES FOR RATIFICATION A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT TO RESTORE THE FIRST AMENDMENT AND FAIR ELECTIONS TO THE PEOPLE; AND BE IT FURTHER
RESOLVED, THAT A COPY OF THESE RESOLUTIONS BE TRANSMITTED FORTHWITH BY THE CLERK OF THE SENATE TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, TO THE PRESIDING OFFICER OF EACH BRANCH OF CONGRESS AND TO THE MEMBERS OF THOSE BRANCHES FROM THE COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS.

  • Bruce_Fenton

    Citizens United was not about campaign contributions as suggested in this article – the CU decision had nothing at all to do with contributions and money was not mentioned in the decision. The other common misconception is that it said “money is speech” or “corporations are people”. It never said either of those things.
    What the CU decision covered was whether it is constitutional for the government to censor a political film or other forms of political speech when that speech is produced by a corporation including not-for profits such as CU, the ACLU, MoveOn, Greenpeace, unions and other groups.
    McCain Feingold had sought to ban and censor these films (in this legal case the film was one critical of Hillary Clinton) and the Supreme Court said such censorship was unconstitutional.

    • John Lippitt

      Although the Citizens United case was technically about the Hillary Clinton movie, the Supreme Court went out of its way to rule on a much broader issue. It ruled that limits on political spending were unconstitutional violations of free speech. The clear implication here is that spending money is equivalent to speech. It also ruled that organizations, such as corporations and others, have such free speech rights. Thus, it made the rights of the Bill of Rights, which generally were seen as individual rights for actual human beings, rights for corporations and other organizations. The result was clearly evident in the 2012 elections, where corporations and wealthy individuals (mostly corporate executives) spent billions of dollars that would not have been allowed prior to the Citizens United decision.

  • Andrei Radulescu-Banu

    Why would the pol be supposed to vote for ‘feel-good’ resolutions like the one endorsed 37-1 in the MA Senate, against Citizens United and against the 2nd Amendment?

    Not sure I follow that train of thought. Don’t we want our elected representatives to be independent thinkers?

    So far it looks like your ‘Belmont Billy’ is setting the agenda for the conversation in this Congressional Campaign.