Paul Adair is a 21-year Germantown resident, retired scientist, writer, and lecturer.
In 2010, the activist majority on the Supreme Court drastically changed the face of US political campaigns. Their 5-4 Citizens United decision essentially stated that corporations have the same legal rights as people (corporations are people) and that spending on political campaigns is equivalent to free speech (money is speech). The decision opened up a Pandora's Box of unlimited cash from anonymous donors flowing into uncontrolled Super-PACS. According to FEC estimates, about $7 billion was spent during 2012 US elections, including more than $2 billion from outside groups.
The influence of money in politics has never been greater. A handful of billionaires can drown-out the voices of tens of millions of citizens. There are two ways to return America to control by its people. The Supreme Court could repent and overturn their earlier decision, but that is unlikely based on the ideology of the current court majority. Or the country can go through the herculean chore of amending the US Constitution, requiring approval by two-thirds of each house of Congress and three-fourths of state legislatures.
A few members of Congress have begun the long amendment process. Constitutional amendments were introduced in March (SJ Res 11) and June (SJ Res 18). The first one says that Congress has the right to legislate how elections are funded. The second says that the rights imparted in the Constitution are the rights of actual people and that corporations are not people. The amendments were referred to committee in both bodies.
How do our elected representatives feel about the CU decision? Are they likely to support campaign reform legislation? During her Senate campaign, Tammy Baldwin called for a constitutional amendment to overturn the CU decision. She also backed the “Disclose Act” of 2012, which was intended to eliminate one of the worst post-CU abuses, by improving transparency on sources of the billions in secret campaign funding.
Ron Johnson, on the other hand, defends the Citizens United court decision, calling the right of corporations to spend unlimited and undisclosed funds on a candidate “free speech”. Johnson was one of the first big recipients of post-CU funding and probably owes his Senate seat to that decision. Ironically, the far right group Citizens United itself endorsed Johnson . And Johnson thinks that unlimited campaign funds should be kept clandestine. He voted to sustain a minority filibuster of the Disclose Act, effectively killing that reform initiative.
In a 2010 House floor speech, Congressman Sensenbrenner also stated his belief that unlimited funding by corporations is free speech , protected by the First Amendment. In his rationalization, he equates corporations with people and unlimited campaign spending with free speech .
The process of amending the US Constitution is never fast. With our do-nothing House and filibuster-hamstrung Senate, it will be even slower. Not willing to wait, many states and local governments have taken the initiative. Their rationale is that it would be difficult for Congress to ignore overwhelming back-home support to overturn CU.
Sixteen geographically diverse states have passed legislative resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to negate the CU ruling (CA, CO, CT, DE, HA, IL, ME, MD, MA, MT, NJ, NM, OR, RI, VT, and WV). And the movement is gaining momentum. Four of these states passed their resolutions in just the last three months. More than 500 towns and cities across the country have also supported an amendment.
What is happening in Wisconsin? At least 6 counties and 7 cities (including West Allis, Fort Atkinson, and Madison) have passed resolutions in support of a Constitutional Amendment to get corporate cash out of our political process. Just this month, Kenosha's City Council approved an anti-CU resolution and Tosa's City Council approved a Spring ballot referendum. Yesterday, petitions were turned-in to get CU resolutions on the ballot in Shorewood and Whitefish Bay. And signature collection is underway to trigger a Waukesha ballot referendum.
The Wisconsin legislature is not ignoring this matter, either. In a July press conference, State Rep. Chris Taylor and State Sen. Dave Hansen announced a resolution calling for a statewide referendum on the November 2014 ballot. This referendum will allow all citizens of Wisconsin to express their feelings on Citizens United. The resolution will be introduced for a legislative vote in Fall. We will soon see if our state elected officials will allow the people to have a voice in this matter so critical to our democracy. It would be ironic if our state politicians believe that corporations should have First Amendment rights, but actual human beings singing in the Capitol should not.
Thanks to a “legislate from the bench” Supreme Court, we are faced with a government for sale to the highest bidder. After what John McCain called the Court's “worst decision ever”, we have seen the wholesale purchase of our political system by the ultra-wealthy. We must return control to "We, the People". We must overturn the Citizen's United decision for the sake of our democracy.