Carmine Gentile working to pass a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Gentile proposes Constitutional amendment

By Jeffrey Abramson - Correspondent
December 9, 2022

Massachusetts may soon be the 23rd state to call on Congress to propose a new 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution designed to restore to Congress the right to pass reasonable restrictions on campaign expenditures. 

In its 2010 decision, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations and independent political action committees had a virtually unlimited first amendment right to spend money during elections. 

In the first decade after that decision, spending on Massachusetts elections and ballot initiatives jumped to $700 million, from the $260 million that had been spent in the decade before the decision.

This is a national trend. The total cost of 2022 state and federal midterm elections exceeded $16.7 billion, according to the watchdog group, Open Secrets.

In an interview with The Concord Bridge, state Rep. Carmine Gentile (D-13th Middlesex), who will be representing three precincts in Concord for the first time, said he plans to reintroduce a resolution in the state house, calling on the state legislature to support a proposed 28th Amendment. 

The amendment would read, in part, “Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to forbid Congress or the States, within their respective jurisdictions, from reasonably regulating and limiting contributions and spending in campaigns, elections, or ballot measures.

State Rep.-elect Simon Cataldo (D-14th Middlesex) is also behind the effort.

“I will support legislation in Massachusetts that seeks to overturn the Citizens United decision by ratifying the U.S. Constitution,” Cataldo said. “As a campaign finance and election offense prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice, I saw how money in politics can distort the political process, and how opaque contribution schemes can unduly influence the decision-making process by sitting government officials.

“In Massachusetts, we have one of the strongest campaign finance systems of any state in the country, highlighted by low contribution limits and stringent transparency regulations,” he added. “Accordingly, Massachusetts is a natural leader in affirming the right of states and the federal government to regulate corporate spending in elections.”

Gentile noted big money from corporations and wealthy donors warp the democratic promise by drowning out the voices of ordinary citizens. By way of example, he cited the $200 million ride app company Uber recently spent to defeat a California ballot proposition that would have required the company to treat drivers as employees rather than independent contractors.

Concord resident Jeff Clements, co-founder of the Concord-based civic group American Promise, has long spearheaded the movement for a 28th amendment.

“In the current system, you and Exxon and a billionaire all have the same right to spend unlimited money,” Clements said. “But how many of us have unlimited money to spend on elections?”

In 2018, Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative to create a citizen’s commission “to consider and recommend potential amendments to the United States Constitution to establish that corporations do not have the same Constitutional rights as human beings and that campaign contributions and expenditures may be regulated.”

In its first report, issued in 2019, the Citizens Commission noted that the Constitution sets out two procedures for passing amendments. One way, the only one that has ever been used, is for Congress by a two-thirds vote in each House to propose amendments. Three quarters of the states must then ratify within a time set by Congress. The other procedure is for two-thirds of the states to call for a constitutional convention.

The Citizen’s Commission has recommended pursuing both avenues for adding a 28th amendment.  In Gentile’s previous attempts to get Massachusetts on board, he followed that recommendation, but he believes that a call for a constitutional convention, even one limited to the subject of political spending, might have given pause to some legislators. In the new session, his resolution will drop any call for a convention. Since polls show that 2/3 of voters nationwide favor campaign finance regulations, Gentile is optimistic that Massachusetts will become the latest state to support a 28th amendment.

Text of proposed amendment

Proposed Amendment drafted by the Massachusetts Citizens Commission Concerning a Constitutional Amendment for Government of the People:

Section1. We the People have compelling sovereign interests in representative self-government, federalism, the integrity of the electoral process, and the political equality of natural persons.

Section 2. Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to forbid Congress or the States, within their respective jurisdictions, from reasonably regulating and limiting contributions and expenditures in campaigns, elections, or ballot measures.

Section 3. Congress and States shall have the power to implement and enforce this article by appropriate legislation, and may distinguish between natural persons and juridical persons, including by prohibiting juridical persons from raising and spending money in campaigns, elections or ballot measures.