Wisconsin Amendment to Overturn Citizens United Ruling Question (2016)

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The Wisconsin Amendment to Overturn Citizens United Ruling Question may appear on the November 8, 2016 ballot in Wisconsin as an advisory question. The measure asks voters whether the Wisconsin congressional delegation should propose and support a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. F.E.C and whether the Wisconsin Legislature should ratify such an amendment.[1]

Text of measure

The proposed ballot question reads as follows:[1]

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Citizens United and related cases allow unlimited spending to influence local, state, and federal elections. To allow all Americans to have an equal say in our democracy, shall Wisconsin’s congressional delegation support, and the Wisconsin legislature ratify, an amendment to the U.S. Constitution stating:
1. Only human beings — not corporations, unions, nonprofit organizations, or similar associations — are endowed with constitutional rights, and
2. Money is not speech, and therefore limiting political contributions and spending is not equivalent to restricting political speech[2]

Background

The United States Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) held that political contributions and spending were protected as "free speech."[3] In 2012, voters in both Montana and Colorado passed initiatives by 3 to 1 majorities asking their respective delegations to the U.S. Congress to support a constitutional amendment that would effectively overturn the high court's ruling.

Support

Arguments

  • Lisa Subeck, executive director of United Wisconsin, argued, “Unlimited election spending by corporations and special interest groups has drowned out the voice of the people in our elections, and urgent action is needed to restore our democracy. Wisconsinites will continue raising their voices until fundamental reforms to our broken campaign finance system are enacted, starting with the reversal of Citizens United.”[4]
  • Darin Von Ruden, president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, claimed that the Citizens United ruling had a particularly negative effect on rural constituents. He said, “When I look at this, it seems to me that there’s a whole lot of money just going back and forth: campaign contributions from urban and suburban areas coming in, and tax dollars to urban and suburban areas going out. Those of us who are paying taxes in rural areas aren’t getting our full share of the American promise of representative government. We need to bring an end to unlimited and unaccountable campaign spending. That is why I and fellow members of Wisconsin Farmers Union support an end to the era of unlimited money in politics, and are advocating for a Constitutional amendment stating that unions, corporations and special interest groups are not people, and money is not speech.”[5]

Media editorial positions

Support

  • The Capital Times, supporting a similar proposal in 2014, said, "Scheduling two advisory referendums for this fall would be easy, and inexpensive — as Wisconsinites will already be voting for governor, statewide and county posts, legislative seats and Congress. It would also generate interest in the election, potentially drawing more voters to the polls. The people of Wisconsin, not out-of-state corporations and their Washington-based henchmen, should decide whether Wisconsin calls for changing the U.S. Constitution."[6]

Path to the ballot

The measure needed to pass through both chambers of the state legislature in order to place the nonbinding question on the ballot.

First attempt

On January 21, 2013, a coalition looking to overturn the Citizens United decision delivered 24,000 petition signatures to the Wisconsin General Assembly. The petitions called on legislators to pass Assembly Joint Resolution 50.[4] On August 27, 2013, AJR 50 was introduced into the Wisconsin Legislature.[7] Democrats in the Wisconsin House of Representatives tried to force the legislation to come up for a vote, but Republicans successfully blocked the measure in a 60 to 29 vote. On March 21, 2014, the assembly adjourned for the year without voting on the measure.

Second attempt

Rep. Lisa Subeck and Sen. Dave Hansen introduced a second resolution in January 2015 in an attempt to put the question before voters.[1]

Similar measures

See also

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References