January 21, 2020
On the 10th anniversary of the Citizens United decision, five Democratic legislators held a press conference in the Assembly Gallery to denounce the impact this decision has had – and to offer solutions to it.
Rep. Lisa Subeck and Sen. Dave Hansen have introduced legislation calling for a statewide advisory referendum to amend the U.S. Constitution to overturn Citizens United.
“Our democracy and far too many of our elected officials have been sold to the highest bidder,” said Rep. Subeck. “As politicians become more beholden to special interests, the interests of the people take a back seat.”
Sen. Hansen said the Citizens United decision has “turned our Founding Fathers’ vision on its head, and they must be spinning in their graves.” He added that there is a direct “link between Citizens United and the inability to pass laws that the people overwhelmingly support and that would benefit them greatly.”
Subeck and Hansen were joined by Representatives Melissa Sargent and Chris Taylor and Sen. Chris Larson.
“It’s time to restore our democratic principles,” said Sen. Larson, who stressed the importance of disclosing who the donors are to the dark money groups. He has proposed a bill that would do that.
“We must restore the integrity of our democracy,” said Rep. Sargent, who talked about her bill to stop unlimited individual donations to political parties and corporate donations to legislative campaign committees. Both of those avenues were opened, for the first time in 100 years, by Republicans when they rewrote our campaign finance law in 2015.
Rep. Taylor called this rewrite an attempt to “strangle our democracy.” And she called the Citizens United “antithetical to democracy.” Said Taylor: “Free speech rights are not conditioned by how much money you have.”
At the press conference, Taylor and Subeck announced that they were introducing a bill to amend the Wisconsin Constitution to prohibit construing “political contributions made by corporations and money otherwise spent by corporations to influence elections as free speech.”
Matt Rothschild, the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, spoke at the end of the press conference.
“Citizens United has been a disaster for our democracy nationally, and a disaster for our democracy here in Wisconsin,” he said.
Citing the Democracy Campaign’s latest report on Citizens United in Wisconsin, he noted that independent expenditures by outside groups have jumped 1,700 percent in governor’s races in our state over the last decade.
“The voice of the citizens has been totally drowned out,” he said. “And sometimes even the voice of the candidates has been drowned out.”
Rothschild pointed to some good news, though. Thanks to the great grassroots work of activists with Wisconsin United to Amend, 146 communities in Wisconsin have passed resolutions or referendums, by overwhelming margins, saying that they want to amend the U.S. Constitution to proclaim, once and for all, that corporations aren’t persons and money isn’t speech.
On April 7, 16 more communities, all across northern Wisconsin, will have an opportunity to weigh in on this crucial issue.