Wisconsin Farmers Union urges voters in the communities of Delavan, Edgerton, Elkhorn, Lake Mills, Waukesha, Wauwatosa, Belleville, DeForest, Shorewood, Waunakee, Whitefish Bay, Waterloo and Windsor to vote "yes" on April 1 on a ballot referendum stating that only human beings, not unions or corporations, are entitled to free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution, and that money is not equivalent to speech.
Similar referendums have passed with strong majorities in 17 other Wisconsin towns and cities in recent years. The purpose of these referendums is to counter the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which opened the floodgates to unlimited campaign spending.
Citizens of all political stripes — Republicans, Democrats, and independents — agree that we need to curb the corrupting influence of money in politics. Voting "yes" on the ballot referendums on April 1 will send a clear message that we the people are ready to take back our democracy.
- Tom Quinn
Director, Wisconsin Farmers Union
Let the people - not big money - decide.
Darin Von Ruden
January 21, 2014 (Anniversary of the Citizen's United decision)
This week marks the fourth anniversary of the wrongheaded 2010 Citizen's United Supreme Court decision, which held that corporations are "people" under the first amendment, and are therefore entitled to exercise their right of "free speech" in the form of unlimited campaign contributions to political candidates. In addition to being a rough year at the Supreme Court, 2010 was a rough year for Wisconsin's dairy farmers. Milk prices had plummeted, and farmers were selling milk for less than what it cost to produce it. There was a widespread call for reform from dairy farmers to prevent this kind of market collapse in the future.
Looking back over the last four years, it is hard not to feel like that call was falling on deaf ears. The federal Farm Bill expired in September 2012, and now more than two full years later, we still do not have a new permanent Farm Bill. That's two full years of inaction by Congress on the central piece of legislation for rural America.
Why are our elected leaders paying so little attention to the needs of rural residents? Three words: follow the money. The Citizens United decision ushered in an era of unlimited campaign spending, with money flowing freely across electoral districts and state lines. It turns out that the vast majority of that campaign money in Wisconsin - nearly 90 percent - came from just one fifth of the state's zip codes. Almost all of those were in urban and suburban areas.
In Wisconsin, every single candidate since 2010 who has received double-digit voting percentages in a gubernatorial race has come from Madison or Milwaukee. The governor's race this year is shaping up to be no different. Now there are plenty of nice people from Madison and Milwaukee, but the fact is that they're not especially in tune with the needs of rural areas.
It's a similar story with the legislative Joint Finance Committee, the powerful group of 16 that shapes the state's biennial budget. Look at a map of their home districts (attached), and you'll see a striking demonstration of just how influential Milwaukee and the surrounding suburbs are on the spending of our state. Note that this is not a partisan issue: the "all eyes on the city" phenomenon applies to Republicans and Democrats alike.
The effects on our state budget are evident. Since 2010, state spending for interstate improvements such as the Zoo Interchange in Milwaukee has increased, while state aid for town and county roads has not kept pace with the increasing costs of road maintenance. Spending on school vouchers that primarily benefit urban and suburban students has increased, while rural schools are struggling with reductions in state equalization grants. Now we are contemplating a shift away from income taxes toward sales or property taxes, which hit farmers and rural landowners especially hard.
When I look at this, it seems to me that there's a whole lot of money just going back and forth: campaign contributions from urban and suburban areas coming in, and tax dollars to urban and suburban areas going out. Those of us who are paying taxes in rural areas aren't getting our full share of the American promise of representative government.
We need to bring an end to unlimited and unaccountable campaign spending. That is why I and fellow members of Wisconsin Farmers Union support an end to the era of unlimited money in politics, and are advocating for a Constitutional amendment stating that unions, corporations, and special interest groups are not people, and money is not speech. We also support a statewide referendum that would allow all voters to weigh in on the Citizens United decision. Is four years of unchecked money in politics enough? We say: let the people - not big money - decide.
Darin Von Ruden
President, Wisconsin Farmers Union | http://www.wisconsinfarmersunion.com/
Wisconsin Farmers Union is a member of the Money Out-Voters In Coalition (Wisconsin)
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