Salem Protests Finance Ruling

April 13, 2014
Sarah Thomas

North Shore residents outraged by the latest blow to U.S. campaign finance law rallied in Salem last week, calling for an end to the corrosive effects of corporate cash in the democratic process.

“It just really pisses me off,” said Rick Marks of Newbury, who held a sign and waved to passing cars in Riley Plaza. “Corporations and special interests already have so much power. Now they can buy even more influence in politics.”

The catalyst for the rally, which was attended by approximately 50 people, was the U.S. Supreme Court decision McCutcheon v. FEC. The ruling strikes the aggregate contribution limits, which kept wealthy individual donors from donating in a large number of races. In the decision reached last week, the effective aggregate contribution limit for individual donors was raised to approximately $123,000.

Critics of the decision, whose activism was galvanized following the related 2010 decision Citizens United v. FEC, say that the raised limits, which equal roughly twice an average U.S. household annual income, primarily affect the impact the most wealthy can have in the electoral process and distort the will of the people.

“Corporations are not people, and money is not speech. That is the root of our argument,” said Michael O’Connor of Rockport. Like many at the rally, O’Connor is part of North Shore Move to Amend, a group that coalesced after the Citizens United decision.

North Shore Move to Amend is part of a national network of organizations trying to raise awareness of changes to campaign finance law, with an eye toward drafting and passing a constitutional amendment limiting campaign cash. In 2012, move to amend organizations in 16 states passed ballot initiatives calling for such an amendment - 18 short of the number needed to advance a motion in the House of Representatives.

In numerous states like Massachusetts, individual communities have passed ballot initiatives affirming support for tighter campaign donation limits. One such community was Salem, along with Rockport, where O’Connor said the support was overwhelming.

“Decisions like Citizens United and the McCutcheon decision, in effect, repeal almost a century of anti-corruption legislation that was put in place to protect our democracy,” O’Connor said. “Though it’s only been a few years, people have already felt the effects of this. They see the Washington deadlock that comes from politicians that have to respond to their special interests before their constituents. Money talks.”

Over 150 similar rallies were organized by move to amend organizations within hours of the McCutcheon decision, said Kathy Lique of Salem, president of North Shore Move to Amend.

“We really feel that, the more decisions there are like this that erode the democratic process, the more people will become energized to work for a change,” Lique said. “We’re going to keep having events, keep trying to educate people, because whenever we do, we find that people understand that they’re not in charge anymore. Their government is being taken away from them. And that’s not how democracy is supposed to work.”

Groups audience: