In November 2018, Massachusetts voters approved Ballot Question 2, to create the Citizens Commission Concerning a Constitutional Amendment for Government of the People. The Commission’s mission is to provide recommendations about how Massachusetts can support amending the U.S. Constitution to regulate election spending and to affirm that corporations do not possess inalienable rights enshrined in it.
Costas Panagopoulos, professor of political science and chair of the Department of Political Science at Northeastern University, was appointed by Massachusetts State Senate President Karen Spilka to serve on the 15 member commission, which later elected him to co-chair the group.“Democracy cannot persist—let alone flourish—when average citizens feel as disenfranchised and disempowered as they do today.”
Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United (2010), corporations and outside groups have been free to spend an unlimited amount of money independently on elections. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, outside groups have poured $4.5 billion into elections in the last decade, $1 billion of which was provided by just 10 donors.
The influence of corporate money on American democracy has caused citizens to feel increasingly feel powerless in the face of growing corporate influence, a trend Panagopoulos does not believe is sustainable. “Democracy cannot persist—let alone flourish—when average citizens feel as disenfranchised and disempowered as they do today,” he said.
Panagopoulos and the Citizens Commission view Constitutional amendment as the best way to restore fairness to the electoral process. “It may be our last best hope to restore sensible campaign finance regulation and to rescue American democracy from the corporate stranglehold currently choking it,” said Panagopoulos in a speech at the Massachusetts State House in January 2020.
The Commission released two reports based on extensive research and testimony at 20 public hearings. The first report, released in January 2020, summarized the impact of corporate and outside group election spending on recent elections in Massachusetts and across the country. In the second report, released on September 17, 2020—Constitution Day—the Citizens Commission recommended language for two, separate amendments to regulate campaign spending and to affirm that artificial entities, such as corporations, do not possess inalienable rights.
The Citizens Commission argues that amending the Constitution to address campaign finance would help to restore public confidence in American elections and democracy. The battle now moves to a national stage, where 38 states would need to ratify a constitutional amendment.
Dr. Costas Panagopoulos is professor of political science and chair in the Department of Political Science in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities at Northeastern University, where he was previously director of big data and quantitative initiatives. A leading expert on campaigns and elections, voting behavior, political psychology, campaign finance, and experimental research, Dr. Panagopoulos has been part of the Decision Desk team at NBC News since the 2006 election cycle. He is also editor of American Politics Research, a peer-reviewed journal published by Sage. Read more.