Voters approve commission to address campaign finance law

Maeve Adiletta, 2, waited outside a voting booth as her mother Erin voted in Cambridge.
Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff
Maeve Adiletta, 2, waited outside a voting booth as her mother Erin voted in Cambridge.

Massachusetts voters have approved Question 2 on the ballot, which would establish a volunteer commission of state residents to examine campaign finance reform.

The Associated Press projected that the ballot question had passed.

Question 2 asked voters to establish a commission of 15 volunteers with the stated goal of researching the role that money plays in Massachusetts politics and then proposing language intended to amend the US Constitution to ban certain types of donations.


With the measure approved, the governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and leaders of the state House and Senate will each be asked to appoint three Massachusetts residents — who must be US citizens — to serve, without compensation, on a panel to examine the issue and deliver a report by the end of next year.

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For a constitutional amendment to eventually pass, it would need support from two-thirds of both the House and the Senate, as well as three-quarters of the states. This seems an especially tall task, given how politically divided the country is on just about any topic.

Supporters of the measure, like Ben Gubits of American Promise, say they hope an amendment is ratified in eight years. The last constitutional amendment, the 27th, took 202 years.

The lead spokesman against Question 2, Paul Craney of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, says that even if a person wants to do something about money in politics, the way this commission would be formed would only continue to serve the interests of politicians.

There has been no spending on advertising from either side.


A Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll in mid-September found that 72 percent of likely voters said they would vote yes on Question 2.

While the words Citizens United appear nowhere on the ballot question, the 2010 US Supreme Court case that allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums to influence elections is the reason this ballot initiative exists in the first place.

Since the Citizens United ruling, there has been a flood of new money into the political process. In the 2008 election, for example, outside groups spent $250 million to influence elections, including the race for president.

By 2016, that number had grown to $1.1 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

All this spending has had an impact on how Americans view politics. A Pew Research poll from May found that 72 percent of Americans feel that big-money political donors have greater political influence than other people. The same Pew poll found that 77 percent of Americans believed there should be limits on the amount of money individuals and groups can spend.


For all that, the power of small donors has been growing. In 2016, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders weren’t the favored candidates of the moneyed classes, but they thrived with small donors. In 2018, many candidates are using this 2016 model — particularly on the Democratic side — to build a wide base of small donors who donate money on autopay every month.

This isn’t the first time that a campaign finance law has appeared on a statewide ballot, though it is the first time there have been concrete next steps attached.

In 2012 and 2016, voters in four states passed what are essentially nonbinding resolutions telling their leaders they would like to see Citizens United overturned somehow, including by constitutional amendment.

James Pindell can be reached at Jeremy C. Fox can be reached