Why Are They Afraid to Hear The People?

Citizen groups to Assembly: Bring money-in-politics resolution to a vote

January 21, 2014

On the fourth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, an alliance of 34 citizen groups called on the state Assembly to vote on a legislative proposal to authorize a statewide referendum in November 2014 on whether the U.S. Constitution should be amended to effectively overturn Citizens United and related decisions that have intensified the influence of money in politics and diminished the voices of ordinary citizens.

Money Out,  Voters In WisconsinAt a Capitol press conference today, representatives of the Money Out, Voters In coalition said the groups called last October for Assembly Government Relations and State Licensing Committee chair Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, to hold a public hearing on Assembly Joint Resolution 50. That committee was later disbanded and AJR 50 was referred to a newly established Committee on State Affairs and Government Operations chaired by Representative Chad Weininger, R-Green Bay. In mid-November, the coalition called on Weininger and the committee’s 15 other members to hold a hearing but received no reply. No action on AJR 50 has yet been scheduled.

“Enough stonewalling. It’s time for a vote,” said coalition representative Scott Foval, the regional political director of the People For the American Way. “When the people of Wisconsin finally are given a chance to have their voices heard on the subject of money in politics, state lawmakers will get an earful.”

Foval said election spending in Wisconsin has tripled since the Citizens United decision, citing a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign comparison of pre-Citizens United spending in the 2006 and 2008 elections to post-Citizens United spending in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles. He also cited a WDC analysis showing outside interest groups empowered by the Citizens United ruling spent $76 million to influence state elections in 2012, with $49 million of the money coming from unidentified sources.

Wisconsin Dells-area dairy farmer and Wisconsin Farmers Union member Sarah Lloyd pointed out that most of the political donations come from urban and suburban areas, adding that problems facing rural communities are neglected at the Capitol because rural residents can’t afford to make large campaign donations and don’t have the means to form political groups that can sponsor their own election advertising.

Wisconsin Business Alliance member Ben Seigel echoed Lloyd’s point, saying that small business owners want to compete in a free market but the money in politics is creating a system of crony capitalism where political donors can buy a government-funded competitive advantage.

Supermajorities in more than two dozen Wisconsin communities already have approved local resolutions or referendums opposing the Citizens United decision and calling for a constitutional amendment stating that only human beings—not corporations, unions, nonprofit organizations, or similar associations—are endowed with constitutional rights; and that money is not speech, and therefore limiting political contributions and election spending is not equivalent to restricting political speech.

“Why is a statewide vote of the people so threatening to Assembly leaders?” Foval asked. “What are they afraid of? They must think they know the answer they would get from voters to any question about the influence of money in politics, and they don’t want to hear that answer.”

The Money Out, Voters In Coalition is a joint effort of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, WISPIRG, People For the American Way, United Wisconsin, Wisconsin Farmers Union, Center for Media and Democracy, South Central Wisconsin Move To Amend, Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups, Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans, Citizen Action Wisconsin, AFT- Wisconsin, National Association of Social Workers – Wisconsin Chapter, United Council of UW Students, Midwest Environmental Advocates, 9 to 5, Madison Teachers Inc., Move to Amend of Southeast Wisconsin, Chippewa Valley Move to Amend, Move to Amend Rock River, Lake Mills Move to Amend, Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, Reedsburg Area Concerned Citizens, Wisconsin Grassroots Network, Madison Area Urban Ministry, Madison MoveOn, Peace Action Wisconsin, Sierra Club – John Muir Chapter, Door County Environmental Council, SouthWest Wisconsin Area Progressives, One Wisconsin Now, Progressive Dane, South Central Federation of Labor, Teaching Assistants’ Association, and Wisconsin Wave.