Voters endorse ‘Move to Amend’ in Whitewater and Fort Atkinson

By JAMES KATES, Capstone Managing Editor

A grass-roots campaign to limit political spending won solid backing Tuesday in non-binding referendums in Whitewater and Fort Atkinson.

Ballot questions sponsored by a group called Move to Amend were approved by an overwhelming majority of voters. The tally in Whitewater was 1,013-198; the result in Fort Atkinson was 1,312-395.

The referendums recommend amending the U.S. Constitution in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, that removed limits on corporate and labor spending in elections.

In a hotly debated 5-4 ruling in 2010, the court said the First Amendment barred any limits to independent spending in support of candidates. The result was to open the floodgates for special-interest money that supported candidates outside their regular campaign organizations.

The Move to Amend proposal declares that corporations are not people and as such do not have constitutional rights. It also says money is not speech.

Tuesday’s votes demonstrate “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 coordinated the Fort Atkinson campaign.

James Hartwick, a UW-Whitewater professor, said the numbers indicated “the strong bipartisan support to get big money out of elections.”

Move to Amend affiliates in Wisconsin hope to hold more referendums and eventually persuade the Wisconsin Legislature to approve a resolution of support for the initiative.

Amending the Constitution is not easy, however. An amendment must be approved by a two-thirds vote of both the U.S. House and Senate, then ratified by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states.

Only 27 constitutional amendments, including the 10 that make up the Bill of Rights, have been approved since the Constitution was written in 1787. The most recent, ratified in 1992, specified that passage of any law on congressional pay would not take effect until the next term of Congress.

While admitting that Whitewater’s resolution was only “symbolic,” Hartwick told UWW students in February that the vote could lead to real action.

“As individuals you can do what you want” to promote candidates, Hartwick said. “But what we’re saying is money is not speech, and it can be regulated.”

He added: “The system is not broken. It’s fixed.”

Move to Amend, which claims a membership of nearly 250,000 people, says on its Web site that local affiliates sponsored referendums in more than 150 communities across the nation during last November’s election. Voters approved all of them.

Opponents say Move to Amend’s strategy is counterproductive, even if its aims are laudable. In The New Republic, commentator Mark Schmitt dismissed talk of amending the Constitution as “distracting mischief.” The “corporations” that would be denied speech rights would include advocacy groups of every stripe, from the National Rifle Association to the American Federation of Teachers.

The American Civil Liberties Union has broken with most other liberal political organizations by opposing the amendment. The ACLU “does not support campaign finance regulation premised on the notion that the answer to money in politics is to ban political speech,” the organization says.

A proposed constitutional amendment based on Move to Amend’s campaign has been introduced in Congress but has not been acted upon.