Wisconsin residents in 12 communities will vote next week on whether to amend the U.S. Constitution to overturn Citizens United, end corporate personhood, and get big money out of politics.
In Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Supreme Court found that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence the outcome of elections.
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.
The referenda "are an expression of the will of local people," Kaja Rebane, co-chair of the Wisconsin Move to Amend network, told Common Dreams. It was just over three years ago that Madison and Dane County became the first municipalities in the country to pass ballot measures aimed at abolishing corporate personhood. "At that time, I don't think any of us had any idea that it would spread as quickly as it has," Rebane said. That the idea did catch on so rapidly, she said, is evidence that "we the people want democracy, not corporatocracy."
"The Supreme Court changed the meaning of the 1st Amendment, and we want it changed back," added Mary Laan, the Move to Amend leader in Milwaukee County.
Should the non-binding measures pass, these communities will join more than 40 others in Wisconsin that have already endorsed such an amendment, along with 16 state legislatures and almost 600 towns, villages, cities, counties, and organizations across the country.
The ballot questions have garnered bipartisan support, Rebane said, noting that previous referenda have passed with high margins in red, blue, and purple parts of the state.
Wisconsin state Senator Dale Schultz, a Republican, has said: "We're talking about billionaires turning this country into a Russian-style oligarchy, where there are two dozen billionaires who buy the whole political process... we are awash in money because of Citizens United, and it puts good people in both parties in a difficult situation."
A similar ballot measure—which 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.
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 on November 4 for a ballot question that reads:
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?
And equivalent measures are on the ballot in three Ohio towns: Mentor, Chagrin Falls, and Lakewood.
An amendment to the U.S. Constitution may be proposed either by the Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the state legislatures. A successfully proposed amendment becomes part of the Constitution as soon as it is ratified by three-fourths of the states (38 of 50).
A push to advance the 'Democracy for All' amendment failed in the U.S. Senate in September.