‘Citizens United’ referendum introduced in Wisconsin

By Brandon Reid
Senior Assistant Editor

A joint resolution introduced Jan. 21 in the Wisconsin Legislature would call for a statewide advisory referendum on overturning the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling.

State Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, and State Sen. Dave Hansen, D, introduced LRB 1145/1, an Assembly Joint Resolution, Jan. 21. The resolution would place the following advisory referendum question on the November 2016 ballot in Wisconsin:

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Citizens United and related cases allow unlimited spending to influence local, state, and federal elections. To allow all Americans to have an equal say in our democracy, shall Wisconsin’s congressional delegation support, and the Wisconsin legislature ratify, an amendment to the U.S. Constitution stating:

1. Only human beings — not corporations, unions, nonprofit organizations, or similar associations — are endowed with constitutional rights, and

2. Money is not speech, and therefore limiting political contributions and spending is not equivalent to restricting political speech.”

Introduction of the resolution was made on the five-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Jan. 21, 2010, ruling in Citizens United.

The Citizens United ruling found that, contrary to longstanding precedents, corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of money to promote or defeat candidates.

It is clear that the public is outraged by the unfettered special-interest spending Citizens United has ushered into our electoral races,” Subeck said. “Worse yet, this unlimited spending too often leaves politicians dependent upon special interests to fund their campaigns, in turn making them accountable to big-money donors instead of the people they are elected to represent.”

During the last legislative session, the Republican majority in Wisconsin failed to hold a hearing on similar resolutions.

Since the Citizens United ruling, 54 communities across Wisconsin, along with 16 states and 500 municipalities nationwide, have passed referendums or resolutions calling for action to overturn Citizens United.

The 2014 midterm elections were the most expensive in history, with total spending topping $3.7 billion. $689 million was spent by outside interest groups and corporations, an increase of more than $250 million over 2010 spending levels. The Wisconsin gubernatorial race saw $12.6 million spent by sources such as super PACs and interest groups outside of the candidates’ own campaigns.

Unlimited election spending by corporations, super PACs, and special-interest groups has drowned out the voice of the people in our elections, and urgent action is needed to restore our democracy,” said Subeck. “In the post-Citizens United era, big money in politics has led to an erosion of the public’s trust in their elected officials. It is time to fix the problem by getting big money out of politics, and the first step is to let the people’s voices be heard on overturning Citizens United.”

Coming on the heels of Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruled April 2, 2014, in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission that putting a limit on the amount of biennial financial contributions individuals can make to a national party and federal candidate committees is unconstitutional. Prior to the ruling, the limit an individual could contribute every two years to a federal candidate was $123,200.

Dec. 3, 2014, Illinois became the third state in the nation to call for a constitutional convention to amend campaign finance law to overturn Citizens United. The Illinois House of Representatives voted 74-40 (with six not reporting) in favor of Senate Joint Resolution 42 (SJR 42) Dec. 3, 2014. The measure passed the Illinois Senate 37-15 April 9, 2014.

With SJR 42’s passage, Illinois joined California and Vermont as states calling for a constitutional convention under Article V of the U.S. Constitution for the purpose of amending the Constitution. Similar measures are also pending in Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Texas.

A constitutional convention can be conducted after two-thirds of state legislatures — or 34 of 50 — call for such a convention. None of the 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution has been proposed by constitutional convention.

Amendments to the Constitution may also be proposed by Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. This is the process used for each of the current 27 amendments.

Supporters of the effort to convene a constitutional convention have speculated that amending the Constitution may be more manageable through a convention rather than waiting for U.S. representatives and U.S. senators to change campaign finance rules on their own — rules many of them benefit from.

Whether created through a constitutional convention or a majority vote in Congress, a proposed amendment becomes part of the Constitution as soon as it is ratified by three-fourths of the states, or 38 of 50 states.

The effort to amend the U.S. Constitution via constitutional convention is being spearheaded by political action committee Wolf PAC. Formed in 2011 and announced at an Occupy Wall Street rally in New York City by The Young Turks host Cenk Uygur, Wolf PAC’s goal is to end “corporate personhood and publicly financing all elections in our country.”

Posted Jan. 21, 2015

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