Vote Yes! Apr 2 |Speakers: Mike McCabe & Erik Kirkstein urge passing 'We the People' amendment | UW-W

March 4, 2013
Chris Welch, Union staff writer

"...The Rock River Affiliate, which covers the general Jefferson County area, including Whitewater and Fort Atkinson, garnered 800 and 776 signatures, respectively, that were certified in December. Each asked its city council to place the matter on the April 2 ballot and give resident electors of each community a chance to vote on the issue themselves.

The issue will be on both citywide ballots next month. The Fort Atkinson City Council formally approved the measure to be on the ballot, while the Whitewater Common Council took no official action, but the question will be on the ballot as a result of direct legislation from the petition.

The exact wording of the proposed referendum in both communities reads: "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."

Additionally, in February, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minnesota, and Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, introduced a similar constitutional amendment at the federal level.

On Monday night, McCabe and Kirkstein encouraged attendees to sign a similar petition to have a statewide referendum on the amendment. If organizers succeed, it be will be advisory only as Wisconsin does not have a direct legislation statute at the state level.

So far, the 11 states have shown support for the Move to Amend cause: Colorado, Additionally, on Nov. 6, more than 160 local communities throughout the United States passed the amendment.

Kirkstein said Monday that his organization is sponsoring petition drives in the Wisconsin communities of Shorewood Hills, Whitefish Bay, and Wauwatosa. He noted that Fort Atkinson and Whitewater voters have "made the decision to get the ball rolling on this."

Kirkstein acknowledged that voters have a right to be cynical.

"Big money in politics has been corrupting our system for years, and it has only gotten worse since the passage of Citizens United," he said. "I think this cynicism can be seen in the unfavorable polling of Congress - right now, they are at something like 9-percent favorability. There is a reason for that: People believe our elected officials are corrupt, they do not want to get anything done, and that they are not working for the people but interest groups.

"This is not how it is supposed to be," Kirkstein said, quoting President James Madison, who noted that government should have the "immediate dependence of the people alone."

"Politicians today are much more dependent on their donors and the people who put big money into elections," Kirkstein said, observing that the more money politicians can get, the more job security they have.

Kirkstein cited Princeton University professors who investigated 40-plus years of public policy and public surveys between 1961 and 2006. The research showed that the wealthy had more influence than working class people on legislation passed by Congress.

"What the polling showed is that when there is a sharp divide between the wealthiest classes and the poorest classes, Congress by and large went with the interests of the wealthiest," he said. "This is a problem because if representation were more equal between everyone, we would not see such stark contrast in the policies."

Kirkstein also said that in one way, Citizens United can be seen as a blessing in disguise, as it brought into the mainstream awareness the unlevel advantage Big Money plays in politics, and now a major movement is under way to balance it out.

"The public outrage at Citizens United was across the political spectrum," he said. "This issue has been festering for years, and Citizens United brought it to the forefront of peoples' minds."

While McCabe briefly touched upon some the same issues he spoke about in-depth in October, he also focused on new ones as well, which he called out-right "threats."

Those threats have been manifested as a "war on voters."

"There are steps being taken to make it more difficult for young people to vote, for senior citizens to vote, for low income and minorities to vote, in an ever-expanding war on voting," he said.

Part of the war involved the redistricting process, McCabe noted, adding, "2012 is a perfect example of partisan gerrymandering diminishing democracy.

"In 2012, we had elections in Wisconsin where one party won the most votes collectively for U.S. House seats, and state Senate and state Assembly seats; but the other party won the House seats and state Senate and Assembly seats," he continued. "I had been talking about redistricting for well over a decade, and for a lot of people, that seemed liked insider politics. But the election opened some eyes. The party did not win because they got the most votes, but because they designed districts that were tailored for re-election.

"That is a direct threat to the power of the voter and to the health of our democracy," McCabe said.

Another threat, he said, was the attack on First Amendment rights at the State Capitol."If you wish to watch a debate, we now have rules in the gallery of this public place where public business is conducted that you can't have a cell phone, or a newspaper, or a laptop computer, or wear a hat, or stand, or cannot speak. "The rules say nothing about wretching, groaning, or fainting and sometimes these are necessary acts while you are watching," he mused. "But you cannot have a camera, or take a video, or take notes; these are direct assaults on the First Amendment rights. This is something that should not stand."

The greatest threat, McCabe said, was the growing power of Big Money in politics, calling it a "campaign arms race."

He said in the two election cycles prior to the Citizens United ruling, in 2006 and 2008, a combined $122 million dollars was spent on Wisconsin elections. After Citizens United, he said, that figured for 2010 and 2012 is $394 million.

"This number is not finalized yet," McCabe said. "But our most recent calculations show that number has tripled. We were already seeing a lot money spent on elections, but we are seeing a heck of lot more now."

McCabe also noted that in the last presidential election, 32 donors gave $313 million to federal PACS ... as much as the combined 3.7 million people who donated to the Mitt Romney and Barack Obama campaigns.

"If the Supreme Court is correct and money equals speech, then each of those 32 donors spoke with 115,000 times the volume of each one of the individual donors to the Romney and Obama campaigns," he said. "The population of United States is something like 309 million people. That means that well over 300 million people gave nothing to that election. For those people, the mute button was on - they were not speaking with any volume at all."

He said that 92,553 people donated to the 2012 Wisconsin elections, many of whom did not live in Wisconsin, that achieved that $394 million figure mentioned earlier.

"This creates a question," he said. "How will politicians represent you when they receive millions to represent someone else?

"Big money wins in elections before voters ever get a chance to cast a ballot," he said.

First, primaries are, in fact, "wealth primaries to weed out candidates who do not have money behind them," he said. "You have to be independently wealth­y or take out a second mortgage on your soul to run competitively for office. If you do not have Big Money behind you, you cannot even get off the ground as a candidate.

"Second, once the voters get a chance to hear from the candidates who do get to run, the best-funded candidates do all the talking," McCabe continued. "They run all the ads, get their message to voters, get the name recognition, and they end up winning nine times out of 10.

"Then, once you have elected officials go off to the Capitol, Big Money wins in a third way and that is by controlling what those elected officials even talk about.

"When was the last time we debated poverty at the Capitol?" he asked. "Why? Because poor people do not make campaign donations. What about rural issues? Our analysis shows that of the 900 ZIP Codes in Wisconsin, the biggest donations come from 32 which are located in urban or suburban areas. That is why there is no debate on rural issues. What is the rural agenda for Wisconsin? You can raise funds talking about rural issues."

Another example: He said his organization has tracked over $16 million in donations to the governor and state legislators from mining interests, while there has only been $25,000 in donations to lobby against the mining bill.

"That is why we are having a mining debate in Wisconsin," McCabe said.

So what can be done?

"Build pressure for a statewide vote, along the lines you will have here in Whitewater and Fort Atkinson on April 2," the speaker advised.

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