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.