Friedman advocates for legislation to increase political participation

BOSTON – On May 15, Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington) testified before the Joint Committee on Election Laws in support of legislation she filed that would remove barriers to political contributions by workers through a system of universal voluntary payroll deduction.

The bill, S.404 An Act promoting political participation, would further enable employees, even if they do not have a bank account, to make regular small voluntary contributions via payroll deductions to 501(c)(4) not-for-profit organizations and Political Action Committees (PACs).

“While many residents across Massachusetts actively volunteer their time and energy for political and non-profit organizations, some of these residents face substantial obstacles to participating fully in the political life of their communities simply because they lack a credit card or a checking account,” said Senator Friedman. “Through this voluntary payroll deduction mechanism, low-income residents will have the opportunity to more fully engage in the political process and help shape the policies that affect their lives and communities.”

Massachusetts courts have ruled that financial contributions are a protected form of free speech in civic and political life. This legislation aims to reduce the obstacles that prevent low-income residents of Massachusetts from participating financially in the civic and political life of their communities. Financial obstacles for low-income residents include the inability to make contributions of a substantial size, often coupled with lack of access to credit cards and banking services.

Affluent Americans not only vote at much higher rates than low-income Americans, they also contribute far more to political candidates, advocacy organizations, PACs, and Super-PACs. As a result, affluent and middle-income individuals tend to have more influence over policy than low-income residents, whose ability to participate is more limited.

By enabling residents of Massachusetts to authorize small, regular deductions from pay, at levels they can afford, this payroll deduction mechanism makes these contributions financially feasible and eliminates transaction costs, thereby encouraging greater numbers of Massachusetts residents to participate in community, civic, and political life.

The choice of whether to authorize a payroll deduction, and to what organization, is entirely the choice of the employee. The bill does, however, specifically exclude use of this mechanism for dues or fees for any union or other employee organization.

In concluding her testimony, Friedman urged the Committee to move the bill out favorably.

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Friedman represents the 4th Middlesex district, which includes Arlington, Billerica, Burlington, Woburn, and precincts 1-2 and 4-7 in Lexington.