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West Virginians Rally, Ask State Lawmakers to Call for End to Corporate Personhood
Efforts in West Virginia Urge State Legislature to Support Resolution Calling for Amendment to Overturn Citizens United
Charleston, W. Va. - February 19 - West Virginians gathered today at the State Capitol to urge the state legislature to support a resolution calling on Congress to back a constitutional amendment that would overturn the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
Elected officials, including Secretary of State Natalie Tenant and Senate President Jeffrey Kessler, spoke about the impact of the court ruling, joined by speakers from nonprofit organizations and labor organizations that support a variety of good governance reforms. Entertainment included musical performances by a local artist and a skit pertaining to the Citizens United ruling.
In West Virginia, the 2012 election brought special attention to the problem of money in politics, with the state launching a new pilot program for public funding in judicial races. Also, former Attorney General Darrell McGraw, who lost his re-election bid, reported being outspent by a margin of 6-to-1. This includes $1.6 million that went toward negative ads financed by the Center for Individual Freedom, an outside group that does not disclose its donors.
“Citizens United is one of the biggest threats to our democracy that now exists,” said Gary Zuckett, executive director of West Virginia Citizen Action Group, an organization leading the planning for the rally. “Unless we can undo this wrongheaded ruling by our highest court, we are headed for corporate takeover of our elections and our government. In other words, welcome to America Inc.”
The rally came at the beginning of the legislative session, with a goal of setting the tone for the next few months as decisions are being made.
“As legislators come back to the Capitol, this is a great time to keep this issue on their minds,” said Senate President Jeff Kessler. “West Virginia has the opportunity to take the lead in this fight for our democracy. People across the political spectrum are in favor of less money in politics. We need to continue backing efforts that move in the direction that all citizens want, which is a level playing field for our democracy.”
The Charleston event is part of a nationwide effort to raise awareness of the dangers of corporate money in politics, limit the power of corporations to fund political campaigns, and return decision-making and control of elections to citizens. In addition to Tennant and Kessler, speakers included former Secretary of State Hike Heiskell, as well as other elected officials and community leaders.
These actions come as the country is witnessing a groundswell of support for improving our democracy. Most recently, the Council of the District of Columbia passed a resolution calling to overturn Citizens United. More than 350 local cities and towns—and 11 states—have supported overturning the ruling, as has President Barack Obama and more than 100 members of Congress.
“It is inspiring to see local leaders drive a call to get Big Money out of politics in West Virginia,” said Jonah Minkoff-Zern, senior organizer with Public Citizen, an organization supporting amendment efforts across the country. “Passing a constitutional amendment is a momentous task, but one that can be done if we organize block by block, city by city, state by state. West Virginia is leading the way forward in defending our democracy.”
Since the 2010 Citizens United ruling, super PACs, trade associations and other groups—many of which hide the identities of their donors—have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to sway elections. Citizens United-enabled outside group spending is devoted overwhelmingly to negative attack ads.
Organizations supporting the event include AFSCME West Virginia, American Federation of Teachers (AFT)—West Virginia, American Friends Service Committee, Coal River Mountain Watch, Communications Workers of America (CWA) —West Virginia, Fairness West Virginia, Marshall University Democracy Matters, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Public Citizen, SEIU Local 1199, Seneca2, Sierra Club West Virginia Chapter, West Virginians for Affordable Health Care (WVAHC), West Virginia Citizens Action Group, West Virginia FREE, West Virginians for Democracy and West Virginia Rivers Coalition.
More information about the Charleston action can be found at www.wv4democracy.us.