Election 2014: Democracy on the Ballot

On November 4, voters in dozens of communities will cast ballots aimed at overturning Citizens United, ending corporate personhood, and getting big money out of politics.

In 2010, the Supreme Court found that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence the outcome of elections. Since then, 16 state legislatures and more than 500 municipalities have passed measures indicating their support for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would effectively reverse the Court's decision. Similar initiatives are on the ballot this year in Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and Ohio.

A ballot measure that would have overturned Citizens United "to allow the full regulation or limitation of campaign contributions and spending, to ensure that all citizens, regardless of wealth, may express their views to one another, and to make clear that the rights protected by the United States Constitution are the rights of natural persons only" was booted from the California ballot by that state's Supreme Court in August.

Additional Common Dreams coverage of the Citizens United ruling and campaign spending can be found here and here.


WISCONSIN

The Basics:

In Milwaukee County, Dunn County, Green Bay, Appleton, Fond du Lac, Neenah, Menasha, Ripon, Stoughton, Oregon, Wausau, and the Village of Park Ridge, voters will cast their ballots on a proposed amendment that would essentially reverse the Court's 2010 decision by stating that corporations are not people and money is not speech.

Ballot Question:

In Milwaukee County, voters will be asked (pdf) to vote yes or no on the following question:

Shall the United States Constitution be amended to establish the following?
1.Only human beings, not corporations, are entitled to constitutional rights, and
2.Money is not speech, and therefore, regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech.
The questions in other municipalities are similar. 

MASSACHUSETTS

The Basics:

In Massachusetts, where the state legislature has already passed a vaguely worded resolution calling on Congress "to pass and send to the states for ratification a constitutional amendment to restore the First Amendment and fair elections to the people," voters in 18 districts will have the chance to "Vote Yes for Democracy" on November 4.

The vote is meant to encourage legislators to "take a more specific stand regarding corporate constitutional rights and money in elections," according to the organization Voters for a Democracy Amendment. "In the face of persistent congressional inaction, we also anticipate a citizen-led effort to encourage the Massachusetts legislature to call, as Vermont and California already have, for a convention, as outlined in Article V of the Constitution, to propose such an amendment.  Getting our legislators to call for a convention will likely depend on the ability to show widespread support for a Democracy Amendment among Massachusetts voters."

Ballot Question:

Shall the representative from this district be instructed to vote in favor of a resolution calling upon Congress to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution affirming that 1) rights protected under the Constitution are the rights of natural persons only and 2) both Congress and the States may place limits on political contributions and political spending?


OHIO

In three Ohio towns—Mentor, Chagrin Falls, and Lakewood—voters will have the chance to express their support for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Ballot Question:

The question in Chagrin Falls reads:

Shall the proposed ordinance entitled “Political Influence by Corporate Entities,” establishing biennial public hearings before Village Council on this subject, and sending a summary of the public hearing to Congressional and State representatives, and calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution declaring that only human beings, not corporations, are legal persons with Constitutional rights and that money is not the equivalent of speech, be adopted?