A group of Platteville residents is circulating a petition for an advisory referendum on a proposed federal constitutional amendment.
The Move to Amend group favors overturning by constitutional amendment U.S. Supreme Court decisions that group members say have resulted in an explosion in spending on political campaigns.
Charlie Clark, one of the group’s organizers, said the constitutional amendment would say that “only people and not corporations, nonprofits, unions or other such groups have constitutional rights, and money is not speech.”
The group needs at least 580 valid signatures from Platteville residents by the end of October to place the advisory referendum on next April’s ballot.
Move to Amend seeks to overturn the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which upheld the rights of corporations, labor unions, nonprofits and other associations to make political contributions under the First Amendment.
While some communities, including the Dunn, Douglas and Jefferson county boards and the Kenosha city council, passed resolutions in favor of Move to Amend, the local group wants the referendum because, said Clark, “we’re trying a movement from the ground up. The point of concern is legislators would be less likely to do it unless it was a groundswell from the ground up.”
The Citizens United decision overturned part of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act authored by U.S. Sens. John McCain (R–Arizona) and Russ Feingold (D–Wisconsin) that prohibited corporations and unions from spending money to fund broadcast ads mentioning a candidate within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general election.
Citizens United in turn was based on a series of Supreme Court decisions that dates back to 1886 as well as Buckley v. Valeo, a 1976 Supreme Court decision that banned limits on campaign spending by candidates, and struck down limits on spending by groups not tied to candidates or political parties.
The 1886 case, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, extended 14th Amendment equal-protection laws to corporations. Three years later, Minneapolis & St. Louis Railroad v. Beckwith, ruled that a corporation is a person for due process and equal protection under the Constitution.
“I see a lot of money and influence by corporations and individuals,” said Clark, listing conservative donors Charles and David Koch, who reportedly plan to raise $900 million for the 2016 elections, the estimated total of outside spending in the 2012 election. “That’s more than a lot of significant dollars to drop just in that area.
“Do you or I want a corporation to have so much money that it can spend to influence a politician who is supposed to represent us? It’s not so much that I’ll be ignored; it’s that politicians will push legislation that will not only help them but will impose a burden on me. I think corporations should be able to do some donations, but is it an unfair playing field? It’s more of an oligarchy instead of a democracy.”
Clark said the group is supported by “both Republicans and Democratic folks, but also by independents.” Clark said polls favor the concept and show people believe there is “too much influence of big money.”
In Wisconsin, voters in Milwaukee, Dane, Chippewa, Eau Claire and Kenosha counties and Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Appleton, Fond du Lac, Fort Atkinson, Ripon, Waukesha, Wauwatosa, West Allis and Whitewater have either passed referenda or resolutions by elective bodies in favor of the proposal.
“I think this is an important message,” said Clark. “It is really important, but doesn’t necessarily happen that the citizenry is aware of what happens in government — local, state and national — unless it’s an issue that affects them. We’re saying that money is property, but money is not speech.”
The 580-vote total represents 15 percent of the voter count from the 2014 gubernatorial election.
“We’re shooting for about 20 percent,” said Clark. “That’s our goal, to have Platteville on the map when it passes — I’m an optimist.”