Voters in the cities of Fort Atkinson and Whitewater strongly supported a measure supporting the national Move to Amend movement to get a constitutional amendment to rescind the concept of "corporate personhood" and generally curbing election spending by special interest groups.
The purpose of the referendum, brought forward by the Rock River Affiliate of Move to Amend, was to show the communities' support of the national Move to Amend movement to rescind the 2010 Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that granted Constitutional status to corporations, and by doing so, rolled back previous legal spending limits on political campaigns.
Fort Atkinson overwhelming voted "yes" on the referendum with 1,312 votes or 76 percent. There were 395 "no" votes for 23 percent of the total.
Similarly, 83 percent of ballots cast in the City of Whitewater were "yes" votes, totaling 1,013. There were 198 "no" ballots in Whitewater.
Organizers said they were pleased and even a bit surprised by the high level of support of the measure.
"It just shows the overwhelming support that citizens have for a constitutional amendment to return control of the democracy to the citizens," said Dan Fary of the Town of Oakland, who spearheaded the formation of the Rock River Affiliate of Move to Amend. "They can't stand the abandonment that our elected officials have given us as the officials have been pursuing the agendas of their wealthy donors. It just shows how strongly the citizens feel that something is wrong and needs to be changed."
In both Fort Atkinson and Whitewater, more than 775 signatures were certified in December from petitions that asked their councils to place the referendum on the April 2 ballot and give electors of each community a chance to vote on the issue.
The exact wording of the referendum in both communities read: "Resolved, that 'We the People' of the City of Fort Atkinson (Whitewater), Wisconsin, seek to reclaim democracy from the expansion of corporate personhood rights and the corrupting influence of unregulated political contributions and spending. We stand with the Move to Amend campaign and communities across the country to support passage of an amendment to the United States Constitution stating: 1. Only human beings - not corporations, limited liability companies, unions, nonprofit organizations or similar associations and corporate entities - are endowed with constitutional rights, and, 2. Money is not speech, and therefore, regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech. Be it further resolved, that we hereby instruct our state and federal representatives to enact resolutions and legislation to advance this effort."
James Hartwick, who led the petition efforts in Whitewater, acknowledged that he also was a bit surprised at how strongly it was supported in both communities.
"I am surprised and pleased by the outpouring of the average person saying enough is enough," he said, acknowledging that once people understood the issues, they were very supportive.
"I would say the numbers in these communities indicate that this is a virtual mandate from these two communities," Hartwick said. "I think these two communities are kind of the 'heartland' of Wisconsin. They are moderate places in Wisconsin, divided fairly evenly, and to have these types of numbers indicates the strong bipartisan support to get big money out of elections."
Ultimately, he said, the hope is for the entire state to embrace the concept.
To date, at least six Wisconsin counties and municipalities - Eau Claire County, West Allis, Madison, Dane County, the Town of Westport and Dunn County - have passed resolutions in support of a constitutional amendment to address concerns about big money in elections.
On the national scale, 11 state legislatures have approved measures supporting a constitutional amendment. Minnesota U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan formally introduced the "We the People" amendment in Congress on Feb. 11.
In Wisconsin, Hartwick noted, the state Legislature cannot be forced to vote on a particular issue.
Direct legislation can be utilized in a city or village in Wisconsin to force legislation. The measure does not apply at any other level of government in the state.
"Our group, the Rock River Affiliate of Move To Amend, intends to pursue resolutions from many towns in Jefferson County and Walworth County throughout 2013," Fary said, noting that it also will be working for additional referendums in other local cities and village.
"Our intent is to keep working until we have a State of Wisconsin resolution sent on to the U.S. Congress."