Balloting boosts campaign to reclaim democracy from corporate interests

By Lisa Neff, Staff writer

Voters in eight Wisconsin communities cast ballots April 4 for a constitutional amendment to reclaim democracy from moneyed interests and overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.

The non-binding referendums asked voters whether the U.S. Constitution should be amended to establish that:

n Rights recognized under the Constitution belong to human beings and not to government-created entities such as corporations or limited liability companies.

n Political campaign spending is not a form of free speech protected under the First Amendment.

Early returns showed voters approved referendums in Racine, Monona, Fox Crossing, Crystal Lake, the town and village of Blue Mounds, Jordan and Caledonia.

More than 100 communities in Wisconsin have approved referendums or resolutions, according to Wisconsin United to Amend.

“We cannot solve any of the pressing issues in front of our country as long as our politicians do not represent us and they won’t until we get the big money out of politics,” said Racine activist Bill Earley.

“The vast majority of voters know their voices aren’t being heard by their representatives. Politicians take their orders from the moneyed interests that keep them in office,” said Karen Ingvoldstat, an activist in Marquette County.

Madison first out of the gate

The first such ballot question in Wisconsin was approved in Madison in 2011, a year after the Supreme Court issued its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

In that 5-4 decision, the court said the First Amendment prohibited restrictions on political expenditures by corporations.

The ruling, as Barack Obama said a week later in a State of the Union address, “reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections.”

Nationwide, 18 state legislatures and 730 communities have called for passage of a constitutional amendment.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, DFL-Minnesota, has introduced the We the People Amendment in Congress.

“It’s time to establish once and for all that corporations are not people, money is not free speech and our elections and public policymaking process are not for sale to the highest corporate bidders,” Nolan said.

U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, is among the co-sponsors.

“The amendment essentially has two provisions,” Pocan said. “It says that money is not free speech and that corporations are not people. A simple but vital premise that would even out the playing field by reversing the deeply corrosive impact of corporate interests on our democracy.”