Whitewater residents to vote on Citizens United decision
WHITEWATER Whitewater residents will essentially vote on the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial Citizens United decision through a referendum April 2.
Even if the measure passes, however, don't expect that to mean fewer ads on your television during the next election season.
Opponents say the 2010 ruling opened the floodgates for spending on elections, when it found the government cannot limit how much money corporations and unions donate to persuade voters. They have launched a national campaign, called Move to Amend, that seeks to reverse the decision's effects through a constitutional amendment.
Step one in that long process, proponents say, is referenda like those on ballots in Whitewater and Fort Atkinson that express public support for such an amendment.
The advisory measure is just that: advisory. By itself, Move to Amend member Dan Farry admits, the referendum "doesn't really do anything."
It would, however, pronounce Whitewater's symbolic support for a constitutional amendment that says only human beings—not corporations, unions and the like—are entitled to constitutional rights, and that spending money is not a form of political speech.
The referendum is necessary, Farry said, because of the way Citizens United has made campaigns dependent on huge donations and support from influential unions and corporations.
"The politicians have gotten to the point that they're trapped," Farry said. "They can't get elected unless this money supports their campaign, and once they're elected they're beholden to the corporations and the really wealthy people who have donated to their cause."
Farry said he has not encountered any organized group opposing the Whitewater referendum locally.
In a post titled "Defending Citizens United," Anthony Dick, an associate editor at the conservative National Review, wrote the decision protects the right to free speech.
"Spending money is an indispensable component of effective political speech, especially when it involves any audience above a trivial size," Dick said.
Although it would express support for an amendment, approving the referendum in Whitewater still would leave Citizens United opponents a long way from overturning the ruling.
Constitutional amendments, like the one Move to Amend wants to pass, first must be proposed by two-thirds of both houses of Congress. It then would need to be ratified by three-quarters of states—a process that has only been achieved 27 times in the nation's history.
The only other option for reversing Citizens United would be for the Supreme Court to overturn its original ruling with a new case.
Either way, symbolic efforts like the Whitewater referendum are an important part of the process according to Mike McCabe, executive director of the election spending watchdog Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
"These efforts are that necessary first step in establishing that there is a national consensus," McCabe said.
"When that national consensus is made clear, that's the kind of thing that will influence the Supreme Court."