Five Years Later, Citizens United Is Undermining Democracy

by Matthew Rothschild, Executive Director

January 23, 2015

Jan. 21 marks the fifth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s horrendous decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which is undermining our democracy. We’ve seen its ugly consequences right here in Wisconsin.

The 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court essentially said money equals speech and that corporations have the same First Amendment rights as persons when it comes to political speech. From these fallacies, it concluded that corporations and unions can spend unlimited sums of money to try to elect candidates so long as they don’t coordinate their activities with those candidates.

In one of the most naïve sentences ever written in a Supreme Court decision, the majority ruling said: “Independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

But here in Wisconsin, we’ve seen how such expenditures do carry the whiff of corruption. For instance, the Gogebic Taconite company contributed $700,000 to the Wisconsin Club for Growth during the recall races in 2011 and 2012. According to the John Doe prosecutors, that contribution was coordinated by agents of Gov. Scott Walker. Around the same time, Walker and the Republicans were promoting a bill that was partially written by Gogebic Taconite. That bill eventually passed, giving the company what it wanted for its controversial mine in Iron County.

When companies like GTac write the rules in Madison, the price we pay is contaminated air quality and drinking water.

We’ve also seen how the logic of Citizens United is making political races in Wisconsin the plaything of the super rich.

Last Sept. 5, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa tore down the $10,000 ceiling here on the total sum that any individual could give in political donations in one election season. In the two months following that decision, Diane Hendricks of ABC Supply in Beloit, who wants to turn Wisconsin into a “right to work” state, gave the Republican Party of Wisconsin $1 million. And Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate, gave $650,000 to the Republican Party of Wisconsin. The same day, the party turned around and gave the Walker campaign $450,000.

Democracy should not be a game that only the wealthiest people and corporations can play. And when corporate interests have undue influence to advance their own agenda, we all pay the price with lower wages and less stable jobs.

Fortunately, here in Wisconsin, citizens are rising up to solve this problem once and for all. In 54 villages, towns, cities and counties, the voters or their elected representatives have passed resolutions with overwhelming majorities clearly stating that corporations are not persons and money is not speech.

This is part of a growing national movement to amend the U.S. Constitution to overturn Citizens United and give democracy a chance.

We need common-sense solutions like this not only on campaign finance but also on voting rights and redistricting so we can have a democracy where everyone has the chance to participate equally, where everyone’s voice is heard, where everyone knows who is trying to influence legislation, and where everyone is held accountable.

The fight against Citizens United is part of this larger fight. It is a fight for our democratic lives.

This comment was originally published in The Capital Times.

WDC Executive Director Matthew Rothschild
Matthew Rothschild
WDC Executive Director

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