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Uniting citizens across party lines

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Catherine W. Idzerda
January 18, 2014

DELAVAN—Here's what we know: 

First, Walworth County has a long tradition of being a Republican stronghold. The last time it supported a Democrat for governor was in 1924.

Second, Move to Amend, the national group working to overturn the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, is called a non-partisan group, but its list of supporting organizations reads like a progressive roll call.

Third, Ellen Holly spent hours knocking on doors in Elkhorn and Delavan asking for people to sign a petition generated by Move to Amend. Only four people turned her down.

Four people. In Walworth County.

Can we deduce from those numbers that the corporate and union “personhood” is an issue that angers people on both sides of the political fence?

Holly certainly thinks so.

CITIZENS UNITED

In 2010, in a case that is now referred to as Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that First Amendment rights extended to corporations, nonprofit organizations and labor unions. As a result, corporations, unions and political organizations on both the left and the right could engage in unprecedented “independent expenditures” during the election season.

An “independent expenditure” is spending on behalf of a candidate without his or her knowledge or the knowledge of his or her campaign.

The best examples are the television ads that aren't attributed to a political party or candidate but are attributed to organizations with ambiguous names such as “People for Education” or “Coalition to Protect Democracy and American Values.”

The websites for such groups don't always yield more information, and often it's impossible to discover who donated to a group.

When Holly explains it to people, she usually makes up as silly name such as “Citizens for a Happy Friday.”

“You don't know who is part of that group,” Holly said. “You go to their website and find that their address is only a P.O. box.”

And it's often impossible to follow the money trail because such organizations aren't required to disclose who their donors are, Holly said.

UNITING CITIZENS

The petition Holly and others were circulating called for “Reclaiming democracy from the corrupting effects of undue corporate influence by amending the United States Constitution to establish that:

1. Only human beings, not corporations, unions, nonprofit organizations nor similar associations are entitled to constitutional rights and

2. Money is not speech, and therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech.”

The petition asks state and federal representatives to enact “resolutions and legislation to advance this effort.”

The petition asks that the municipality in question—most recently the city of Delavan—to either adopt the resolution or schedule it for a referendum question on the next ballot.

“People really want to be able to vote on this,” Holly said. “They want to go on the record as an individual.”

Supporters come from across the political spectrum, she said.

“People are tired of big corporations and money having an unfair influence,” she said.

To file a petition for direct legislation, organizers need to collect signatures equal to at least 15 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election.

On Tuesday, the Delavan City Council agreed to put the resolution on the April ballot. Elkhorn agreed to add it to the spring ballot late last year.

Other municipalities that have agreed to put it on their spring ballot include Edgerton, Waunakee, DeForest, Wauwatosa, Shorewood and Lake Mills.

In the spring, when the weather improves, Holly and others plan to take the Move to Amend to Lake Geneva.



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