In the May 18 Pulse, Mr. Felhofer questioned the proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution, gives his opinions about campaign spending and blames the media as “opinion shapers” for faults in our election process. I respectfully disagree with his assessment of the meaning of the proposed constitutional amendment; or that “the media” is to blame for negative political ads.
The proposed U.S. Constitutional Amendment would clarify that: 1. Only human beings are endowed with individual constitutional rights, not corporations, unions, non-profits or artificial entities; and 2. Money is not speech, and therefore limiting political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech. The national campaign to pass this amendment is called “Move to Amend”; in Wisconsin the campaign is called “Wisconsin United to Amend.”
The amendment campaign started following the 2012 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission, which ruled that corporations have a First Amendment right (equal to human beings) to spend unlimited amounts of money on candidates for elected office. The court also ruled that this unlimited spending does not lead to corruption or the appearance of corruption of the political system. The decision removed any hope of common sense campaign finance reform that could be held up in court.
Problems with this decision for our democracy are two-fold. First, it allows ultra-wealthy people, giant corporations and organizations to drown out lesser-financed citizen voices and have an unfair advantage in the marketplace of ideas. Their “right” to “pursuit of happiness” crushes my right to the same, because money allows them to shout longer and louder.
The second problem for a representative democratic system is even more serious. In spite of the court’s opinion that money in elections does not lead to corruption, our elected officials operate on a “pay to play” field. Politicians who accept campaign money from deep pocket sources are then beholden to them. Examples: While well over 75 percent of citizens polled feel quite strongly about passing common-sense gun control legislation, the NRA and the gun lobby has made sure that legislators do not address the issue head-on. Closer to home, some no-bid contracts for Foxconn are being awarded to those who financially supported Governor Walker’s campaign. Former U.S. Congressman Mick Mulvaney recently admitted that unless lobbyists had significantly donated to his campaign, he refused to see them. Plain and simple, special interests are able to buy power, favors, and friendly legislation with large campaign contributions. How much influence can letter writing and phone calls from concerned citizens have, when this is the reality of today’s political system?
For better and worse, we are far removed from the campaign style of Senator William Proxmire. The Move to Amend initiative is, indeed, a well-intentioned effort to equalize the voice of actual human citizens, and help democracy work better. It is very much a bipartisan effort. Passing the amendment will not solve everything immediately, but it is a critical and necessary underpinning for much needed finance reform that will not be subject to overturn by the court.
Sturgeon Bay, Wis.