By Barbara Miner
Money can’t buy you love but it sure can buy elections.
Which is why the idea of a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United is sounding better everyday.
According to reports in Thursday’s papers, Wisconsin’s recall more than doubled the previous record for spending on a governor’s race, coming in at about $81 million.
Scott Walker, aided by a legal glitch that allowed unlimited fundraising for certain expenses, raised $59.7 million compared to Tom Barrett’s $22 million.
Overall, the money spent was about $32 per voter. It would have been cheaper to buy the votes outright.
Oops, that’s illegal.
So instead we have a system where money talks— and talks and talks and talks. Those with money, especially corporations and their front groups, get to not only drown out the views of everyday people, but afterwards they use their expensive lobbyists to twist the arms of elected officials.
It’s legal, but it’s disgusting.
Which is why campaign finance reform has to be on the top of the reform agenda if we care about protecting our democracy. Because if we don’t institute some serious reforms, we might as well admit we are nothing more than a plutocracy.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines “democracy” as “Government by the people.” “Plutocracy” is defined as “Government by the wealthy.”
I don’t know about you, but I sure prefer democracy to plutocracy. But I also fear that “plutocracy” is a more apt description of this country’s current realities.
THE MOVEMENT TO OVERTURN CITIZENS UNITED
The Republicans, with a strong base among corporations and rich people, are much better at the money game. Take the case of voter suppression via voter ID and similar measures. The Republicans have been so good at financing their propaganda machine that a disturbing number of people actually believe there’s a serious problem of voter fraud in this country — although all facts show otherwise.
So how to reclaim our American democracy?
One way forward is to overturn Citizens United, the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court 5-4 ruling that sidestepped a century of legal precedent and bolstered the oddity of defining corporations as people.
I am a bit dubious when people start talking about a constitutional amendment — it seems like a pipe dream. But then I think of the women’s suffrage movement, which worked tirelessly for decades and finally won the right to vote for women in 1920 via the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And the 14th Amendment, which took a Civil War before it passed. Clearly, important changes take time and sacrifice.
The need to overturn Citizens United became more obvious this June when the U.S. Supreme Court broadened the scope of that infamous ruling and in another 5-4 decision shot down a century-old law in Montana limiting corporate spending.
Not surprisingly, the Montana governor has joined the effort to overturn Citizens United.
“The fight’s not over,” Gov. Brian Schweitzer said. “We’re going to overrule the Supreme Court with a constitutional amendment to make it clear that we the people are in charge of America — not we the corporations.” (Schweitzer also wrote an op-ed for the New York Times that’s worth reading.)
This is a governor talking, not some wild-eyed radical from the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Other mainstream politicians are also taking the movement seriously — from members of the U.S. Congress to local and state elected officials. Earlier this month, California became the sixth state and largest state whose legislators called for an amendment to overturn Citizens United, joining New Mexico, Maryland, Vermont, Rhode Island and Hawaii. [
“The movement for a constitutional amendment is spreading like a Montana prairie fire,” Montana’s Gov. Schweitzer has boasted.
He’s perhaps overly optimistic. But at the beginning of the 20th Century, demands for universal women’s suffrage also seemed unrealistic.
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This blog is cross-posted at The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Purple Wisconsin project.