Tag Archives: Citizens United

Wisconsin communities vote to amend, overturn Citizens United

Wisconsin voters in 18 communities Nov. 8 voted for non-binding referenda to amend the U.S. Constitution to say that money is not the same thing as free speech and overturn Citizens United.

“People across the ideological spectrum get it: All of our voices are being drowned out by those with big money,” said Matt Rothschild, executive director of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

The questions were approved with overwhelming majorities:

• Rock County (86 percent)

• Reedsburg (86 percent)

• Manitowoc (81 percent)

• Delafield (79 percent)

• Neshkoro (88 percent)

• New Glarus (88 percent)

• Spring Valley (91 percent)

• Osceola (86 percent)

• Mt. Horeb (84 percent)

• Monticello (86 percent)

• Clayton (86 percent)

• New Glarus (83 percent)

• Harris (65 percent)

• Springdale (86 percent)

• Decatur (89 percent)

• Mount Pleasant (84 percent)

• Cadiz (87 percent)

• Lake Tomahawk (91 percent)

A total of 96 Wisconsin communities — home to 2.8 million people — have called for an amendment.

Across the country, 18 state legislatures have voted for a constitutional amendment, as well as more than 700 towns, villages, cities and counties.

Jeanette Kelty, a leader of the amendment movement in Green County, said the morning after the election, “We are extremely pleased that these referenda passed by such high margins. This clearly demonstrates the will of the people. It is time for our state representatives to put this resolution to a statewide vote, and to move towards sending a resolution from Wisconsin to the U.S. Congress.”

Four in five Americans oppose the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision, according to a Bloomberg poll. A New York Times/CBS poll.

“Big money has absolutely corrupted our system of government of, by, and for the people,” said Gerry Flakas of Delafield, another activist involved in the amendment push. “The only solution is to amend the Constitution to clarify that money is not speech and a corporation is not a person.”

On the Web

United To Amend is a non-partisan, grassroots movement. For more information visit wiuta.org.

Watchdog group asks SCOTUS to overturn John Doe 2 ruling

On June 29, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), the Brennan Center for Justice and Common Cause filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court urging the justices to overturn the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that shut down John Doe 2.

John Doe 2 was a criminal investigation into potentially illegal campaign coordination between Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign and groups that spent millions to help him survive the 2011–2012 recall elections.

The brief argues in part that the Constitution’s guarantee of a fair and independent tribunal was violated in the case due to the extraordinary conflicts of interest of two justices.

Justices David Prosser and Michael Gableman denied a motion from the special prosecutor to step aside because they’d received millions of dollars in support from the defendants in the case. According to the brief, they then proceeded to: help “cancel oral argument, issue sweeping secrecy orders, halt the investigation, fire the special prosecutor, order the evidence returned and copies destroyed, and dramatically curtail Wisconsin’s campaign finance law, rendering the longstanding limits and other restrictions the state places on contributions to candidates virtually meaningless.”

According to the brief, inappropriate actions were taken by the state’s high court to impede the prosecutors’ appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Specifically, the brief argues that:

  • Special prosecutor Fran Schmitz filed a Motion for Recusal asking justices Prosser and Gableman to step aside and raising concerns about two other justices. Those two justice and two others have received a combined $10 million since 2007 from the defendants in the case.
  • The special prosecutor may have unearthed documents suggesting that justices Prosser and Gableman or their campaigns benefited from the same kind of coordinated activities by the subjects of the investigation as Walker did. They may have had direct campaign-related interactions with the groups under investigation. Still, the two justices refused to recuse themselves from the case.
  • The activities of the groups under investigation in John Doe 2 aided the election of Prosser and Gableman to an even greater degree than in a case on which the Supreme Court has already ruled. In Caperton v. Massey, a West Virginia justice helped reverse a multi-million dollar verdict against a coal baron whose spending got him elected. The ruling in that case, which was issued the same day as the Citizens United decision, the U.S. Supreme Court intervened due to the potential corruption.
  • The expenditures for Prosser and Gableman were made during the same time period and involved the same players as the actions under investigation in the John Doe 2 case. The defendants and their offshoots spent a combined total of $3.2 million to support Gableman’s election, nearly eight times the $411,000 spent by Gableman’s campaign itself.
  • Shortly after the recall elections, one of the defendants, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, issued a press release boasting of the $6.75 million it had spent on the previous three Supreme Court elections.

CMD’s brief notes: “Not only were the justices put in a position of making rulings that could cost their biggest campaign supporters millions in civil fines, but upholding the district attorneys’ theory of prosecution could have sent those supporters to jail. … As in Caperton, the amount spent by the movants and the organizations they controlled ‘eclipsed’ the amount spent by other supporters of Prosser and Gableman, as well as the amount spent by their own campaign committees.”

Close connections

As noted in Schmitz’s motion to recuse,“Two of the movants had ‘direct involvement’ with the re-election campaign of one justice; the treasurer of Walker’s campaign committee was also associated with the campaign committee of one justice; and one justice’s campaign had a ‘close connection’ with more than one movant.”

Schmitz is a former anti-terrorism prosecutor for ex-President George W. Bush’s Department of Justice.

The motion also noted “there is a potential overlap between the activities” of Prosser’s campaign “during the … election (that’s) within the scope of the investigation now before this court.” Prosser was re-elected in 2011, the same year of the Senate recall campaigns.

According to the brief, the criminal investigation “appears to have turned up at least one interaction with a justice’s campaign that ‘gave rise to a reportable contribution as a coordinated expenditure’ — the activity at the heart of the case and the court’s decision. As a result of that activity, ‘the Justices will be deciding issues that may well reflect back on their own campaign committees and any interaction that may have taken place between these committees’ and movants in the case.’”

CMD’s brief to the U.S. Supreme Court also urges the Court to overrule the Wisconsin Supreme Court for legal errors in its analysis of binding precedent allowing legislatures to limit coordination that would circumvent anti-corruption rules.

The brief states that the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s ruling is wholly at odds with … longstanding decisions, as well as the holding of the U.S. Court of Appeals in this very same case. In O’Keefe v Chisholm (2014), the court ruled that “no opinion issued by the Supreme Court, or by any court of appeals, establishes (‘clearly’ or otherwise) that the First Amendment forbids regulation of coordination between campaign committees and issue-advocacy groups — let alone that the First Amendment forbids even an inquiry into that topic.”

In summation, the brief argues that the facts in John Doe 2, the grave legal errors made by the state court, the potential bias of some of the state justices, and the extraordinary intervention by that court provide compelling reasons for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case and repudiate the decision of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Hearing expected later this year

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to consider the prosecutors’ petition later this year.

Last year, before the Wisconsin Supreme Court intervened in the state criminal prosecution of John Doe 2, federal prosecutors were investigating illegal campaign coordination similar to that alleged in the Wisconsin case under parallel federal laws. In Virginia, a “campaign finance manager and political consultant pleaded guilty … in the Eastern District of Virginia for coordinating $325,000 in federal election campaign contributions by a political action committee (PAC) to a Congressional campaign committee.”

As the U.S. Department of Justice stated in that case, “The significant prison sentence imposed on Tyler Harber should cause other political operatives to think twice about circumventing laws that promote transparency in federal elections,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. “As the first conviction for illegal campaign coordination, this case stands as an important step forward in the criminal enforcement of federal campaign finance laws. Illegal campaign coordination can be difficult to detect, which is why we strongly encourage party or campaign insiders to come forward and blow the whistle.”

In the Wisconsin case, the targets of the investigation and related search warrants have denied any wrongdoing and claimed in court and through their allies in right-wing media that any coordination was protected by the First Amendment, in light of the Citizens United decision. That claim was embraced by the majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, despite justices’ manifest conflicts of interest in ruling on those claims.

The brief submitted by CMD, the Brennan Center, and Common Cause refutes that claim and highlights the overwhelming legal precedent supporting state and federal rules that limit coordination to help guard against the corruption of elected officials, including judges.

CMD, an investigative watchdog organization based in Madison, Wisconsin, has been reporting on John  Doe 2 since 2013 when the public first learned that a bipartisan group of state prosecutors had begun a criminal investigation into suspected illegal coordination spearheaded by Walker and his team to orchestrate ads from outside groups trying to aid Republican senators and Governor Walker himself as they faced potential recall elections stemming from Walker’s extremely controversial legislative agenda.

A prior criminal investigation of Scott Walker’s staff and associates, during the time he served as Milwaukee County Executive, resulted in 15 felony indictments for six people who have been sentenced for a variety of crimes including misconduct in office, including three Walker aides. Scott Walker was not charged in that case known as “John Doe I.”

Click here to read CMD’s full brief

Louis Weisberg edited this article from a release provided by CMD.

Protesters target big money in politics

Protesters channeling themes from the presidential campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders dumped faux contributions into Boston Harbor on April 15, one of some 30 demonstrations planned across the country against big money in politics.
In Washington, about a dozen members of the liberal action Democracy Spring cuffed themselves inside the Capitol rotunda in a protest of the influence of special interests in U.S. politics and to denounce laws making it more difficult to vote.
The Democracy Spring demonstration followed the arrest of hundreds at events all week including a sit-in protest on the steps of the Capitol, the seat of the U.S. Congress.
Both the weeklong protests in Washington and the nationwide demonstrations led by the activist group Represent.Us have tapped into some of the voter frustration seen on the presidential campaign trail.
“From super PACs (political action committees) to lucrative job offers and campaign contributions, there are tons of perfectly legal ways to bribe a politician,” said Charlotte Hill, communications director for Represent.Us.
The group, which has promoted anti-corruption resolutions in American cities, says it neither endorses nor opposes any presidential candidate. Represent.Us said it would stage events in 33 cities.
Trump, a billionaire Republican, and Sanders, who describes himself as a democratic socialist running for the Democratic nomination, have both denounced the influence of large campaign contributions in their surprising runs for the White House.
“Our message is it doesn’t matter if you’re conservative or progressive. Two hundred and 43 years after the original Boston Tea Party, Americans of all political stripes are still facing taxation without political representation,” said Dan Krassner, political director of Represent.Us.
About 40 activists attended the symbolic re-staging of the Boston Tea Party near the spot where American colonists dumped tea into the harbor to protest taxes levied by the British. Represent.Us activists tossed a stack of wooden crates into the water, representing campaign contributions.
“We’ve got to get the money out of the system. Our country’s going to be run by global corporate wealth,” said Richard Painter, an activist with Take Back Our Republic, a group promoting campaign finance reform.
In Washington on April 15, Democracy Spring activists cuffed themselves to scaffolding in the Capitol rotunda. A video provided by the group ended when Capitol Police advised them they would be arrested because demonstrations inside the Capitol are prohibited.
“We the people demand a democracy free from the corruption influence of big money and voter suppression,” the protesters said in unison. “We demand a democracy where every vote is counted and every voice is heard.”

A blindfolded demonstrator holds up a copy of the United States Constitution while protesting against the Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump in midtown Manhattan in New York City. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Mike Segar/Files
A blindfolded demonstrator holds up a copy of the United States Constitution while protesting against the Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump in midtown Manhattan in New York City. — PHOTO: REUTERS/Mike Segar/Files

Merit selection: The best way to end judicial corruption

In the almost 4,000 years since Hammurabi codified Babylonian law, Western cultures have held judicial fairness and impartiality as an ideal. To be sure, it’s an ideal sometimes honored more in the breach than in the keeping, but it’s an unchanging ideal nonetheless.

Today, in Wisconsin, that ideal is under attack, from enemies both old and new.

Wisconsin elects its judges and elections mean donations and donations mean influence. The more money that flows into a judge’s coffers, the greater the chances that fairness and impartiality are at risk.

It’s critical for Wisconsin to reconsider the way judges are selected. The American Bar Association has advocated for merit selection since 1937. Merit selection, which is used in two-thirds of the states, relies on neutral experts and nonpartisan boards to select a qualified pool of candidates from which the governor can choose. In some states, approval of the senate also is required.

Under the system, judges must stand for retention after a determined number of years. The public is asked to vote only on whether to keep them. There are no competitive elections.

Alternately, the Wisconsin Bar Association has proposed a constitutional amendment that would limit justices to a single, 16-year term. According to WAB, the term limits would “engender greater public confidence in the court’s ability to pursue justice independently of political influence.”

We don’t think term limits are strong enough to solve the problem. Only merit selection upholds the ideal of blind justice.

Wisconsin’s already corrupt system has been further damaged by two high court rulings, one from Washington and the other from Madison.

In its Citizens United ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ratcheted up brazen judicial bribery by removing limits on how much donors can contribute secretly to PACs to influence elections.

In Wisconsin, the problem is compounded by a state Supreme Court decision that campaigns can coordinate election strategies directly with dark money groups. The story of how such coordination became legal demonstrates how this kind of corruption works.

Several dark money groups were charged in a state “John Doe” case with illegal coordination during Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign. The same groups had given $8 million to four of the conservative justices on the bench.

So, when the case arrived at the high court, its outcome was a foregone conclusion. But the paid-for justices went further than anyone imagined they would. They not only dismissed the case against their donor, but ignored all legal precedent and tossed out the law banning such coordination. Then they ordered the evidence to be destroyed.

Why weren’t those justices recused from a case in which there was such a blatant conflict of interest? Just because, they said.

On April 5, with nearly four times the anonymous cash spent for her as for her opponent, Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley won a 10-year term on the high court. Now the dark money groups have five-two control over justice in the state.

Money over merit: A majority of area lawyers said Bradley was unqualified. She’d never served on a judicial bench until 2012, when Scott Walker appointed her to a Milwaukee Circuit Court position. Last fall, following the death of Justice Patrick Crooks, Walker elevated her to the high court to finish out Crooks’ term, making her the incumbent in the election.

WiG is not alone in calling for reform. On April 5, 11 diverse towns in Wisconsin held referenda asking whether to amend the Constitution to undo Citizens United by declaring that money is not speech. Between 74 and 88 percent of voters said yes. That brought the total number of Wisconsin communities who’ve voted to nix Citizens United to 72. Forty-four percent of the state’s citizens live in those jurisdictions.

We need Citizens United to be thrown on the trash heap of history, and we must stop electing justices and appoint them on merit. Fair and impartial justice must not be negotiable.

11 communities vote for amendment against Citizens United

Wisconsin voters in 11 communities in the April 5 spring election backed a call to amend the U.S. Constitution to overturn the Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court.

The non-binding referenda passed in Janesville (84 percent), Beloit (74 percent), Platteville (84 percent), Monroe (83 percent), New London (81 percent), Lancaster (85 percent), Brodhead (85 percent), Darlington (81 percent), Clarno (85 percent), York (86 percent) and Belmont (88 percent), according to the grassroots campaign United to Amend and Wisconsin United to Amend.

To date, 72 Wisconsin communities have called for an amendment.

Across the country, 16 legislatures have voted in favor of an amendment, as well as about 700 municipalities.

Ray Spellman, who led the campaign in Darlington said, “We are extremely pleased that these referenda passed by such high margins. This clearly demonstrates the will of the people. It is time for our state representatives to put this resolution to a statewide vote, and to move towards sending a resolution from Wisconsin to the U.S. Congress.”

Four in five Americans — including 80 percent of Republicans — oppose the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision, according to a Bloomberg poll.

A New York Times/CBS poll in June found 85 percent of Americans — including majorities of Democrats, Republicans and Independents — believe campaign finance system must be fundamentally changed or rebuilt.

Polls consistently show widespread agreement among Democrats, Independents, and Republicans that the campaign finance system is corrupt.

“It is now obvious that we are losing our democracy,” said Nettie McGee of Outagamie County. “The huge money in our political system buys our elections and politicians.”

We The People amendment question on April 5 ballots

Voters in 11 Wisconsin communities will be asked on April 5 ballots whether they support amending the Constitution to overturn the Citizens United ruling allowing corporations to finance campaigns.

Voters will cast ballots in Beloit, Janesville, Brodhead, Monroe, Clarno, York, Darlington, Belmont, Platteville, Lancaster and New London. Voters are being asked to send a message that “a corporation is not a person and money is not speech.”

If all vote in favor, this will bring to 72 the number of Wisconsin communities that have called for the We The People amendment, according to a statement from United to Amend.

Nationwide, 16 state Legislatures have voted for a constitutional amendment, as have more than 680 towns, villages, cities and counties.

“Most of our legislators are part of pay-to-play politics – they must serve their big-money funders, not the people. I want my democracy to work for my grandchildren again” said Jeanette Kelty, of the United to Amend leader in the Monroe area.

“It is now obvious that we are losing our democracy,” stated Nettie McGee, a reformer in Outagamie County. “The huge money in our political system buys our elections and politicians.”

Polls show support for the amendment among Democrats, independents and Republicans.

United to Amend said the roots of the problem run deeper than Citizens United. More than a century ago, Robert M. La Follette spoke against corruption wrought by the “concessions and privileges” given to corporations by legislators. “Why,” he asked, “in a government where the people are sovereign, why are these things tolerated?”

On the Web

United To Amend is a nonpartisan, grassroots movement. For more information go to wiuta.org.

Voters reject candidates pushed by right-wing billionaires

Like most of the country, we have been alarmed at the violence, vitriol and demagoguery that dominate this election cycle. At the same time, we understand the anger on all sides that drives it. We believe that anger springs from the long-overdue realization that we have lost control of our government over the past three decades.

A small handful of far-right billionaires have engineered the laws, policies and popular thinking that have prevented the middle class from moving ahead. They’ve spent billions to foster the divisions that keep them in power, using perhaps the cleverest and most thorough propaganda strategies the world has ever known.

They are more than influencers. They are our invisible rulers, hidden behind a veil of secrecy made legal by the Citizens United ruling, which they regard as their greatest triumph. They control America through media, think tanks, endowed chairs at universities, rigged science, publications with respectable veneers and, of course, their elected officials — from school boards to state lawmakers to the U.S. Senate to the Supreme Court.

When the rest of us turn against other, our invisible rulers invariably win. All the anger that should be directed at them goes elsewhere instead: toward President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Hollywood, immigrants, the poor, the rich, African-Americans, gays, Catholics — practically anyone or any group that can be exploited as a dividing line.

In fact, their success is based largely on this formula: While hoi polloi are cursing each other, the families who got rich cheating at business, polluting the world, evading taxes and ignoring regulations sneak in under the radar and continue rigging the system to their advantage.

Their names and faces are unknown to the vast majority of Americans, Charles and David Koch notwithstanding. We are too focused on blaming the demon du jour to realize they exist. If you’re interested in who they are and how they did it, read “Dark Money”  by Jane Mayer, perhaps the most thoroughly researched and readable book ever written about the billionaires behind the rise of the radical right — from their family histories to their methodology.

In normal election years, the small handful of right-wing billionaires who form what is now the nation’s ruling oligarchy are delighted to see the electorate divided and intractable. This election year, however, those families are soiling their drawers. The anger and divisiveness they fostered wasn’t supposed to go this far — to near-revolutionary rhetoric. The society they’ve engineered for 30 years is unraveling. People on both sides of every divide are fed up with being deprived. As a result, the puppets chosen by billionaires are being rejected in the primaries, trounced by candidates who are willing to say that the system is rigged. Not even the $25 million they spent in February alone to save Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign in his home state of Florida had any effect. That money was burned up in the flames of middle-class America’s anger over the economic inequality the right-wing billionaires have created.

Perhaps the greatest irony of this year’s presidential race is what’s come of the brutal and endless campaign that those billionaires have waged against Hillary Clinton. Ever since she put forward a national health plan in 1993, Clinton has been in their crosshairs. But now she leads the pack.

This election has not only pushed Clinton further to the left, but all the anger roiling the GOP has given her a stronger-than-ever chance of winning. The foe who’s kept them awake at night for decades may well sit in the Oval Office.

Beyond that, they never anticipated having to deal with candidates such as Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, who have defied their ability to buy votes through advertising. This election cycle they face the unthinkable: No matter who wins, they lose.

While we deplore the nasty road this year’s elections have taken, we hope it signals that people on both sides of the political aisle are fed up with having to work two jobs and spend an extra $700 on their vehicles each year due to potholes there’s no money to fix. If the electorate’s anger leads to the discovery of the nation’s real enemies, perhaps it will prove to be the turning point we so badly need to get the nation back on track to authentic Democracy.

Voters reject candidates pushed by right-wing billionaires

Like most of the country, we have been alarmed at the violence, vitriol and demagoguery that dominate this election cycle. At the same time, we understand the anger on all sides that drives it. We believe that anger springs from the long-overdue realization that we have lost control of our government over the past three decades.

A small handful of far-right billionaires have engineered the laws, policies and popular thinking that have prevented the middle class from moving ahead. They’ve spent billions to foster the divisions that keep them in power, using perhaps the cleverest and most thorough propaganda strategies the world has ever known.

They are more than influencers. They are our invisible rulers, hidden behind a veil of secrecy made legal by the Citizens United ruling, which they regard as their greatest triumph. They control America through media, think tanks, endowed chairs at universities, rigged science, publications with respectable veneers and, of course, their elected officials — from school boards to state lawmakers to the U.S. Senate to the Supreme Court.

When the rest of us turn against other, our invisible rulers invariably win. All the anger that should be directed at them goes elsewhere instead: toward President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Hollywood, immigrants, the poor, the rich, African-Americans, gays, Catholics — practically anyone or any group that can be exploited as a dividing line.

In fact, their success is based largely on this formula: While hoi polloi are cursing each other, the families who got rich cheating at business, polluting the world, evading taxes and ignoring regulations sneak in under the radar and continue rigging the system to their advantage.

Their names and faces are unknown to the vast majority of Americans, Charles and David Koch notwithstanding. We are too focused on blaming the demon du jour to realize they exist. If you’re interested in who they are and how they did it, read “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right” by Jane Mayer — perhaps the most thoroughly researched and readable book ever written about the American oligarchy.

In normal election years, the small handful of right-wing billionaires who form the nation’s ruling oligarchy are delighted to see the electorate divided and intractable. This election year, however, those families are soiling their drawers. The anger and divisiveness they fostered wasn’t supposed to go this far — to near-revolutionary rhetoric. The society they’ve engineered for 30 years is unraveling. People on both sides of every divide are fed up with being deprived. As a result, the puppets chosen by billionaires are being rejected in the primaries, trounced by candidates who are willing to say that the system is rigged. Not even the $25 million they spent in February alone to save Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign in his home state of Florida had any effect. That money was burned up in the flames of middle-class America’s anger over the economic inequality the right-wing billionaires have created.

Perhaps the greatest irony of this year’s presidential race is what’s come of the brutal and endless campaign that those billionaires have waged against Hillary Clinton. Ever since she put forward a national health plan in 1993, Clinton has been in their crosshairs. But now she leads the pack.

This election has not only pushed Clinton further to the left, but all the anger roiling the GOP has given her a stronger-than-ever chance of winning. The foe who’s kept them awake at night for decades may well sit in the Oval Office.

Beyond that, they never anticipated having to deal with candidates such as Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, who have defied their ability to buy votes through advertising. This election cycle they face the unthinkable: No matter who wins, they lose.

While we deplore the nasty road this year’s elections have taken, we hope it signals that people on both sides of the political aisle are fed up with having to work two jobs and spend an extra $700 on their vehicles each year due to potholes there’s no money to fix. If the electorate’s anger leads to the discovery of the nation’s real enemies, perhaps it will prove to be the turning point we so badly need to get the nation back on track to authentic Democracy.