Noelle Swan

Russell Simmons Announces Constitutional Amendment at Occupy Boston

Noelle Swan
New England Post
November 17, 2011

Occupy Boston members discouraged by the crackdown on their New York City counterparts got a pep talk Tuesday from hip-hop magnate Russell Simmons—ironically, a member of the “1 percent” that the protest movement rails against.

Noting that “9 out of 10 Americans think that there’s too much control over our government by corporations and special interests,” Simmons rallied the crowd by distributing a draft of a constitutional amendment mandating publicly financed federal elections.

Simmons said “a senior member of Congress” authored the amendment but opted to remain anonymous until he could find a Republican co-sponsor of the bill. The amendment would eliminate private donations to political campaigns for president and congress.

Simmons said that morning’s NYPD raid on Zuccotti Park and the arrests of some 200 Occupy Wall Street protesters spurred him to announce the bill early.

Occupy Boston protestors have had a good relationship with police, but recent middle-of-the-night evictions of Occupy protestors in several cities has raised fears throughout the encampment at Dewey Square. Simmons praised the group’s “courage and … endurance.”

The bill would eliminate private financing of elections for presidential and congressional campaigns. It would bar all political contributions and expenditures , “from any other source, including the candidate,” in either support or opposition to any federal candidate.

“I don’t want a person to tell my president, and my Congress to go to war, and then go home and write a check,” said Simmons. “I just don’t want the legal bribery. I think all of us know that this is the core of our problem; and it is the core of our solution.”

The proposal is similar to provisions in to a campaign finance reform bill sponsored by Senator Dick Durbin (D) of Illinois. Durbin has unsuccessfully attempted to introduce the bill to each of the past three Congresses.

“This is a simple amendment that makes all the difference in the world…,” Simmons said.

Historically, bills calling for publicly funded elections have not been successful. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 met firm opposition and was called “unconstitutional.”

In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that election financing is protected as an expression of free speech in Federal Election Commission v. Citizen’s United. The ruling declared that corporations are entitled to express their right to free speech in the form of unlimited financial donations to Superpacs.

Simmons said that Superpacs are a part of the problem the bill tries to address and that the author carefully selected the language to include “expenditures” rather than just donations. “They think that corporations are people. Corporations have quarterly profits. They have no compassion.”

Protesters welcomed the announcement with cheers and “twinkles”—the finger waving the movement uses to indicate approval.

Referring to the widespread criticism that the Occupy movement has offered no specific solutions to the economic inequities it opposes, John Ford, head of the library and a community leader at the Occupy Boston camp called out, “Now that is a concrete demand,” and the crowd responded with a chorus of cheers.

Alex Malone, a janitor from Boston who has been active in Occupy Boston protests said after the press conference, “Money in politics is the biggest problem in the country ever. I think the amendment would really straighten out our government.”

Others expressed doubts that such an amendment could pass.

A few people in the crowd expressed skepticism about Simmons participation in the Occupy movement. The 54-year-old co-founder of Def Jam Records has an estimated personal wealth in the hundreds of millions. He has been a staunch supporter of the Occupy movement since its inception two months ago, offering himself as a mouthpiece and providing financial support.

One protester pointed out Simmons benefits from corporate loopholes in the tax code.

Simmons responded, “I do benefit from the tax code but I am ready to pay more taxes.”

Shanna Smith, a protester from Boston, said that she had asked Simmons on Twitter the day before how an owner of a gold toilet could relate to Occupy protesters. She said that he responded saying that he grew up in the inner city (New York) and still has friends that live there.

Simmons noted that critics “say mean things about all the voices that can amplify our voice. They say mean things about the people who have the resources, who could make a big difference to us because of their monetary gifts and their support system…”

He promised to use his own funds to help support winterization efforts at Occupy Boston. He concluded the conference by symbolically changing his Yankees cap for a Red Sox cap.


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