JEFFERSON — Jefferson County elected officials soon will join government representatives nationwide in debating whether to support a constitutional amendment declaring that people, not corporations or organizations, are endowed with constitutional rights.
A resolution of support for such an amendment, first proposed by Supervisor Jim Schroeder at the June 11 Jefferson County Board of Supervisors meeting, was discussed at Wednesday’s Administration and Rules Committee meeting after the full board sent the issue to the panel for review.
The hypothetical amendment would be a direct response to the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court case, which ruled that political expenditures by corporations, associations or labor unions are protected by the same First Amendment rights as individual citizens.
The ruling effectively rolled back all previous spending limits on political campaigns, opening the floodgates to cash from wealthy donors spilling in to the election system.
The question drew several citizens to the committee meeting — which marked the first time a county panel was taking up the issue formally — to voice their support for a county-level resolution.
Dan Fary, founder of the Rock River Affiliate of Move to Amend, which has helped pass resolutions of support for a constitutional amendment in the cities of Fort Atkinson and Whitewater, said an amendment is necessary to see a complete overhaul of the nation’s political system.
“Our politicians have gradually gotten into a trap. They are unable to win an election unless huge amounts of money are spent on their behalf to get them elected,” Fary said, explaining that these donors often expect political favors in return.
“Our politicians are unable to free themselves from this trap, because if they support legislation to end the money influence, their wealthy donors will withdraw support and instead use it to support a candidate more favorable to their views.”
He said the political apathy toward this issue is why a popular movement is necessary to bring forward a constitutional amendment. The referenda passed in Fort Atkinson and Whitewater in April were approved by 77 percent and 84 percent of the voters, respectively.
However, citizens groups cannot bring forth a referendum at the county level, so it is county government’s job to either offer the referendum supporting an amendment, or add an advisory referendum to a future ballot.
Other members of the organization stepped forward at the meeting, urging the members of the committee to forward the issue to the board for further debate.
“I support the constitutional amendment and the resolution because we’re supposed to have government that represents people. We do not have liberty or justice when decisions are made according to who has the most money,” said Brad Geyer of Jefferson. “Small and locally owned businesses, along with most citizens, are at a serious disadvantage under the current system.”
Margaret DeMuth said she believed those who traveled to the meeting were not alone in wanting this amendment.
“Elections can be bought with large corporate money and it’s not right,” she said. “And I don’t believe the citizens of Jefferson County believe it’s right, either.”
James Hartwick cited the movement’s gathering momentum, with 15 states pledging support for an amendment, most of them signing on in the last year. He said the movement is not anti-corporation, but, rather, pro-democracy.
“We’re not seeking to prevent corporations from fulfilling the purpose for which they were created, in essence to serve ‘We the people.’ he explained. “But they do not belong in the category of ‘We the people.’ It runs contrary to our entire constitutional structure.”
Finally Supervisor Greg David, speaking as a concerned citizen, played to the board’s own experiences.
“I’ve heard conversations among the county board so many times about how messed up our state government is and our federal government is,” he recalled. “This is a means to try to take the money out of politics so that we get legislation for the people. So please vote for this.”
After all gathered citizens had spoken, the committee needed no debate before unanimously agreeing to pass the question to the full board for a final vote.
Supervisor Jim Mode moved to send the resolution to the board, but he also wanted the option to take the issue directly to county residents via an advisory referendum. Such a referendum would not be binding for the county board, but would help give supervisors a good idea of where residents stand on the question.
The board will debate both options at a future meeting.
[Currently scheduled for July 9th at 7pm ]