Tag Archives: campaign spending

Wisconsin fights back against ‘Citizens United’

Jan. 21 marked the fifth anniversary of Citizens United and Wisconsinites are fighting back against that awful U.S. Supreme Court decision as never before.

In the 5-4 decision, conservatives on the court ruled that corporations are persons and money is speech, and therefore corporations, unions and other associations can spend as much as they want on their candidates.

The results have been disastrous for our democracy. Outside spending in federal races quadrupled in 2012 to a staggering $1 billion. And get this: About 60 percent of that came from just 195 individuals and their spouses.

It didn’t even come from the top 1 percent. It came from the top 0.01 percent.

This is not democracy. This is plutocracy.

Here in Wisconsin, we’ve seen the pernicious effect of Citizens United as the Koch brothers have spent $5.5 million in our state, not only helping Scott Walker but knocking out two Kenosha school board members.

The school privatizers spent $850,000 to elect Republicans to the state Legislature last fall.

And mining company Gogebic Taconite sent $700,000 to the Republican Party of Wisconsin during the recalls. It was a good investment, since the Republicans subsequently rammed through a bill that was partially written by GTac and gave the company all it wanted.

This is blatant corruption. We all pay the price when the environment that we treasure gets wrecked, when our public schools get destroyed and when unions get busted — pushing down wages and workplace safety.

There’s a scene in the documentary As Goes Janesville in which Diane Hendricks, the billionaire co-founder of ABC Supply in Beloit, urged Walker to make Wisconsin a “right-to-work” state. She gave the Republican Party of Wisconsin $1 million last fall after Judge Rudolph Randa, relying on Citizens United, threw out the $10,000 limit that any individual could give in one political season. Randa’s decision also prompted a liberal Milwaukee philanthropist to give $1 million to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

Citizens United has reduced the vast majority of Americans to mere bystanders.

But Wisconsinites are not standing for it. In 54 villages, towns, cities and counties, they have voted by overwhelming margins to overturn Citizens United and to amend the U.S. Constitution to state, unequivocally, that corporations are not persons and money is not speech.

From Douglas County to the city of Elkhorn, from Eau Claire County to the city of Waukesha, Wisconsinites have been rising up.

And we are not alone. Citizens have made this happen in about 600 places around the country, including 16 states.

Wisconsin has a chance to join that list of states.

Two weeks ago, state Assemblywoman Lisa Subeck introduced a bill to bring a statewide referendum to the people, asking Wisconsinites whether we want to amend the U.S. Constitution to get rid of the falsehoods that corporations are persons and money is speech.

As Subeck said, “The Supreme Court effectively sold our democracy to the highest bidder.”

We need to take our democracy off the auction block and return it to the people. Amending the U.S. Constitution is the way to go.

Matthew Rothschild is the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign at wisdc.org.

Senate Republicans defeat amendment on campaign spending

Senate Republicans on Sept. 11 defeated a measure to advance a proposed amendment to rein in campaign spending by businesses, wealthy donors and candidates.

But the defeat was anticipated. And even if the measure had passed in the Senate, it would have gone nowhere in the GOP-controlled House.

The vote on Sept. 11, after several days of debate, was 54-42. Sixty votes were needed to keep the amendment alive.

Republicans opposed the measure, saying it would stifle free speech.

“The U.S. Senate took a historic step forward this week in debating the Democracy for All amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision,” said Nick Nyhart, CEO and president of Public Campaign.

He added, “An overwhelming majority of the American people support efforts to rein in our unsustainable campaign finance system and now they know who is on their side in Washington, D.C. This week’s debate was an important benchmark in the crucial fight to create a fairer democracy that’s truly of, by, and for the people.”

Mike Russo of U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, called the vote a milestone and added that amending the Constitution was not meant to be easy. “We know that the public overwhelmingly supports getting big money out of politics,” he said. Today’s vote is just the beginning and marks a big step forward in the movement to reclaim democracy.”

In 2012, 32 super PAC donors spent as much as all 3.7 million donors to the campaigns of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.

“The Citizens United decision unleashed a tide of big money from mega-donors and super PACs into our elections,” said Russo.

He added, “But far from accepting this as a new status quo, Americans have been fighting back. In just a few short years, 16 states and more than 550 cities and localities across the country have enacted resolutions calling on Congress to pass an amendment to overturn Citizens United. Today, a majority of the U.S. Senate answered that call.”

A number of localities in Wisconsin face Nov. 4 votes on non-binding resolutions for campaign finance reform.

Editor’s note: This story will be updated.





Coalition urges constitutional amendment to rein in campaign spending

Several dozen groups representing an array of interests called this week on the U.S. Senate to back a constitutional amendment to rein in out-of-control campaign spending.

The groups, in a letter to senators, urged support for S.J. Res. 19, a proposed constitutional amendment to establish that Congress and the states have the power to regulate and limit election spending.

“We know that America will never deliver on its promise if our election system is dominated by big money interests,” wrote advocates of the amendment, including Public Citizen, USAction, Common Cause, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, National Education Association, NAACP, Franciscan Action Network, Pesticide Action Network and Communications Workers of America.

S.J. Res. 19 would overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and McCutcheon v. FEC. The amendment also would overturn the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling, which established the doctrine colloquially known as “money equals speech.”

The letter said: “America faces great and serious challenges — putting people back to work, addressing deepening inequality, averting catastrophic climate change, fixing our schools, ensuring quality and affordable health care for all, and much more. Our country has the wealth and wherewithal, and the creativity and conscience, to meet these challenges. But we will fall short unless we repair our democracy.

“We do not lightly call for amending our great Constitution. But we know that there can be no greater constitutional purpose than ensuring the functioning of our democracy. We urge you in the strongest terms to support S.J. Res. 19, so that it quickly becomes the 28th Amendment to our Constitution.”

Proposed resolution would allow vote on Citizens United in Wisconsin

The recently introduced Senate Joint Resolution 68 proposes a November ballot referendum asking Wisconsin voters whether their elected leaders should support a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United.

Citizens United is the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that cleared the way for corporations to make unlimited contributions to campaigns and have unprecedented influence in U.S. elections. The Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group described it this way: “The ruling, based on the premises that corporations have the same constitutional rights as people and that money is equivalent to speech, opened the floodgates to the corrupting influence of big money in our democracy by granting corporations the power to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence our elections.”

The referendum, though not binding, has the support of dozens of grassroots groups in the state.

“Poll after poll has shown that overwhelming majorities, including Republicans, Democrats and Independents, all stand united in the concern that big money, wealthy donors are drowning out the voices of average Americans,” said Bruce Speight, WISPIRG director. “In a democracy, the size of your wallet shouldn’t determine the strength of your voice or your right to representation. Senators should pass this resolution and give the people of Wisconsin a say in the future of our democracy.”

A report released by the WISPIRG Foundation and Demos entitled “Billion Dollar Democracy,” found that total spending on the 2012 election cycle topped $5.2 billion, with more than $1 billion coming from SuperPACs and similar groups. Nearly 60 percent of the total SuperPAC funding came from 159 people making contributions of at least $1 million.

Wisconsin has seen a similar trend in its elections.

Spending by candidates and interest groups in elections for state and federal offices totaled $391.9 million in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles — more than triple the $123.7 million spent in the 2006 and 2008 election cycles, according to a review conducted by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. 

Since the 2010 ruling on Citizens United, 16 states and more than 500 municipalities have passed resolutions opposing the decision. In Wisconsin, 14 counties and municipalities have passed resolutions.

Wisconsin activists rally against big money in campaigns

Representatives of a coalition of 35 citizen groups, including the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, called on the Wisconsin Legislature to approve Assembly Joint Resolution 50 authorizing a statewide referendum in November 2014 on whether the U.S. Constitution should be amended to effectively overturn the notorious Citizens United ruling and related decisions that intensified the influence of money in politics and diminished the voices of ordinary citizens.

The call was made on Oct. 8, the day the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC, a case challenging a federal law limiting campaign contributions.

The Money Out, Voters In coalition rallied against big money in political campaigns at the Wisconsin state Capitol at about noon. Their focus was on Citizens United, the case that has allowed special interest groups to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections and also McCutcheon, which has been characterized as the “next Citizens United.”

“What’s at stake is whether we have free speech or fee speech, and whether we have a system of elected representation dependent on and responsive to the people or a system where money dominates,” said Wisconsin Democracy Campaign director Mike McCabe.

The coalition delivered a letter calling for a hearing on AJR 50 to Assembly Government Relations and State Licensing Committee chair Tyler August, a Republican from Lake Geneva.

And after the rally, activists lobbied lawmakers in both chambers.

The coalition involves: WISPIRG, People For the American Way, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, United Wisconsin, Center for Media and Democracy, South Central Wisconsin Move To Amend, Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans, Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups, Wisconsin Farmers Union, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Network, Citizen Action Wisconsin, AFT- Wisconsin, National Association of Social Workers – Wisconsin Chapter, United Council of UW Students, Midwest Environmental Advocates, 9 to 5, Madison Teachers Inc., Move to Amend of Southeast Wisconsin, Chippewa Valley Move to Amend, Move to Amend Rock River, Lake Mills Move to Amend, Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, Reedsburg Area Concerned Citizens, Wisconsin Grassroots Network, Madison Area Urban Ministry, Madison MoveOn, Peace Action Wisconsin, Sierra Club – John Muir Chapter, Door County Environmental Council, SouthWest Wisconsin Area Progressives, One Wisconsin Now, Progressive Dane, South Central Federation of Labor, Teaching Assistants’ Association, and Wisconsin Wave.