This Tuesday, Jan. 21, marks the 10th anniversary of the Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
That decision allowed corporations, unions, other groups and super-rich individuals to spend unlimited amounts of money to try to elect their favorite candidates to office.
It’s been a disaster for democracy, both nationally and right here in Wisconsin.
Nationally, it’s allowed 25 of the wealthiest people in this country to funnel $1.4 billion into super PACs that splatter your screens with campaign ads. The three biggest spenders, according to Public Citizen, have been Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, spending $292 million; Tom Steyer, spending $255 million; and Michael Bloomberg, spending $155 million.
What’s more, corporations have spent $213 million to political groups trying to influence elections. Seven of the top 20 corporate spenders are from the fossil fuel industry. Chevron, for instance, spent $8.2 million.
Here in Wisconsin, independent expenditures by outside groups have leaped five-fold in the last decade, reaching $78.2 million. And in races for the governorship, they’ve leaped 17-fold, according to a report that my organization, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, just released entitled “Citizens United in Wisconsin: A Decade of Disaster.”
One problem with this huge surge in outside spending in Wisconsin is that it drowns out the messages of the candidates themselves.
Another problem is that electioneering groups are mostly funded by wealthy out-of-state individuals and special interests that aren’t in tune with the needs of Wisconsin citizens.
Whether you’re looking at the national picture or the picture right here in Wisconsin, one thing is clear: We, the citizens, have less and less say over who gets elected, what laws are passed, and what policies are pursued.
None of us has nearly as much of a say as Sheldon Adelson, or Tom Steyer, or Michael Bloomberg.
None of us has nearly as much of a say as Chevron.
Our democracy is not supposed to be a tug of war between a few billionaires and special interests on the left, and a few on the right.
In a democracy, we’re all supposed to have an equal tug on the rope.
But we don’t—not even close.
And thanks to Citizens United, you and I can barely even get near that rope, much less tug on it.
Fortunately, there is a growing grassroots movement in this country to overturn Citizens United and pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to proclaim, once and for all, that corporations aren’t persons and money isn’t speech and to allow us, finally, to level the political playing field.
Thanks to the amazing work of volunteers at Wisconsin United to Amend, 146 communities in Wisconsin—including Beloit, Evansville, Janesville, and Milton—have passed resolutions or referendums in favor of this amendment. We’re a leader in this nationwide movement, and we can take pride in that.
That’s the happy news on this unhappy anniversary.