James Hartwick: On fifth anniversary of Citizens United, it’s time amend the Constitution

NOTE: This post originally appeared on Madison.com / The Cap Times.

After five years of unlimited corporate campaign contributions, it’s time to get money out of politics. Jan. 21 is the fifth anniversary of the highly controversial Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, in which a split Supreme Court decided that unions and corporate entities can contribute unlimited funds to elections. This decision has damaged our democracy and it’s time for us to act.

Each election cycle since the 2010 Citizens United decision has seen more and more money pouring into the system. Elections have become little more than bidding wars, with the candidate with most money winning over 90 percent of the time. Most of the money comes from big corporate special interests, with the richest few drowning out the voice of the vast majority of people. And with the 2014 McCutcheon v. FEC decision, the Supreme Court made a bad situation worse. This ruling struck down aggregate limits on campaign contributions to federal candidates and political committees, making it easier for corporate groups and the super wealthy to contribute large sums directly to candidates and political parties.

The Citizens United case rested on the assumption that allowing for corporate contributions would not increase corruption or the perception of corruption. However, there is a widespread perception of the corrupting influence on political leaders as a result of their need to secure big dollars to get elected. According to a 2012 Brennan Center for Justice poll, nearly 70 percent of Americans believed super PAC spending leads to corruption, and 85 percent believed that, compared with past elections, the money being spent by political groups in elections was more likely to lead to corruption. Thus, it appears that elections are for sale, and that the public sees that campaign contributions are little more than legal bribery.

The extension of constitutional rights to corporations, unions and other similar entities, often known as “corporate personhood,” has opened the door to other insidious problems. For example, corporations avoid environmental protections by claiming that regulatory inspections violate their Fourth Amendment protections from illegal search and seizures. How can clean, safe water be protected if testing effluent is considered a rights violation? In the name of additional profits, corporations use supposed constitutional rights to avoid regulatory pollution controls, while fish die and people get sick.

Corporations have even claimed the First Amendment right to religious freedom, as seen in the 2014 Hobby Lobby case. In this case, a corporation successfully claimed the First Amendment right of religious freedom to avoid complying with a government mandate. That’s right, a corporation — really, an organizational business structure and tax designation — claimed to hold a religious belief. This most treasured right of citizens to believe or not believe in a particular religion was used as a loophole by the corporation. The Bill of Rights was designed to protect living, breathing citizens from government overreach. But through judicial alchemy, the Supreme Court has decided to further empower corporations, perhaps the most powerful man-made organizations, at the expense of the people.

With the disastrous consequences of the Citizens United decision in mind, there is a movement afoot to amend the constitution, to rein in political spending and to end corporate personhood. Nationally, the Move to Amend group is working state by state, town by town, and ultimately person by person to overturn Citizens United by amending the U.S. Constitution. Move to Amend is a national coalition with more than 150 local affiliates and over 370,000 members. Move to Amend supports the We the People Amendment, which clarifies for the Supreme Court and all Americans that money is not speech, and therefore, campaign spending can be regulated; and only human beings — not corporations, unions and the rest — are entitled to constitutional rights.

Thus far, 16 state legislatures have signaled their support in favor of some type of constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision. Across the country, almost 600 cities, towns, villages and other organizations have voted in favor of the Move to Amend amendment, often by an overwhelming margin. In Wisconsin’s last election, 12 communities voted in support of an amendment, with every measure garnering at least 70 percent support. To date, 54 Wisconsin communities that have called for the Move to Amend amendment. In total, 2.4 million people (41 percent of Wisconsinites) live in these jurisdictions.

On this, the fifth anniversary of the controversial Citizens United decision, it is time to consider the problems that have arisen since this ill-advised, split court decision. The proposed We the People Amendment, with its two central pillars — (1) money is not speech, and therefore, campaign spending can be regulated; and (2) only human beings (not corporations, unions, and similar entities) are entitled to constitutional rights — will do much to address the problems exacerbated by the Citizens United decision. Visit the Wisconsin Move to Amend website to find out how you can join the effort to reclaim our democracy.

James Hartwick is co-chair of Wisconsin Move to Amend.

Read more: http://host.madison.com/news/opinion/column/james-hartwick-on-fifth-anniversary-of-citizens-united-it-s/article_e23e82b0-21f5-5c84-b883-bfc31d60b555.html#ixzz3PO6uGXYy

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MEDIA RELEASE: Money Out Voters In Wisconsin Coalition to Lobby Madison Capitol on 5th Anniversary of Citizens United

For Immediate Release                                                           January 19, 2015

Coalition to Lobby Madison Capitol on 5th Anniversary of Citizens United

Assemblywoman Lisa Subeck to introduce bill to amend the U.S. Constitution

Press Conference at 9:00 a.m.

Contact:

Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, (608) 255-4260, cell: (608) 695-7368

Peter Skopec, WISPIRG, (608) 268-1566; cell: (847) 687-7229

MADISON, WI:  The Money Out, Voters In – Wisconsin coalition will be holding a press conference at 9:00 a.m. this Wed, Jan. 21, in the Assembly Parlor of the State Capitol Building to kick off a day of lobbying to get money out of politics.

Jan. 21 is the fifth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United vs. FEC, which said that corporations, unions and other associations could give unlimited amounts of money to try to elect candidates of their choice so long as they don’t coordinate their activities with their chosen candidates.

“The Supreme Court, in its Citizens United decision, opened the floodgates, and our democracy is drowning,” says Matt Rothschild, the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. “Here in Wisconsin, we’ve seen the consequences, as the Koch brothers, and Gogebic Taconite, and the school privatizers are throwing their weight around as never before.”

“Five years after Citizens United, big money is speaking louder than ever before – but the good news is that our leaders can take immediate steps to reduce its influence and empower ordinary voters,” says Peter Skopec, WISPIRG Campaigns Director. “State lawmakers should lower, not increase campaign contribution limits, and make coordination between outside groups and candidates explicitly illegal. They should empower small donors by matching small contributions with limited public funds. And they should maintain the Government Accountability Board’s independent oversight powers, rather than take us back to the days of ineffective, partisan-appointed monitoring that failed Wisconsin in the past.”

On Wed, Jan. 21, State Assemblywoman Lisa Subeck will be introducing a bill to create an advisory referendum on the November 2016 ballot asking whether Wisconsin’s congressional delegation should support, and the Wisconsin Legislature should ratify, an amendment to the U.S. Constitution stating that: “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.”

Rep. Subeck will be at the 9:00 press conference.

The Money Out, Voters In Wisconsin coalition believes that in a democracy everyone should have the ability to participate meaningfully, and that everyone’s voice should be heard, and that everyone should know who is buying influence in our elections and government. We believe in common-sense rules to ensure democracy, and one of those rules, which we need to put into the U.S. Constitution, is that a corporation is not a person.

The Money Out, Voters In Coalition- Wisconsin 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.

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UPDATED! Citizens United 5th Anniversary Press Conference and Lobby Day on January 21st!

MOVI LogoThe 5th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision is coming up WEDNESDAY, January 21st. Money Out Voters In Wisconsin has a full day of events planned. Please Join Us and RSVP on Facebook!

8:45 AM – Meet Up – Assembly Parlor Room, Wisconsin State Capitol Building, 2 East Main Street, Madison, WI 53703

9:00 AM – Press Conference – Assembly Parlor Room, Wisconsin State Capitol Building, 2 East Main Street, Madison, WI 53703

10:00 AM – Lobby Day Training, Room 415 NW, Wisconsin State Capitol Building

10:45 AM – 2:00 PM – Lobby Day

2:00-2:30 PM – Debrief (room TBD)

6:30-8:00PM – Unhappy 5th Birthday Party, Citizens United with Mike McCabe, Julie Wells, Kaja Rebane and the Raging Grannies! Meet us at Cargo Coffee, 750 E. Washington Ave, Madison (map). More information on Facebook.

Please be sure to RSVP and share the FB event link with your networks! We hope to see you!

For questions email Peter Scopec (WISPIRG) at peter@wispirg.org or Scott Foval (PFAW) at sfoval@pfaw.org.