Last Tuesday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker kept his job, but with a high price tag. In a state of only 6 million people, $60 million was poured into the race, $50 million of which went to Governor Walker. And almost half of that was spent by outside groups—most of them not based in the state of Wisconsin.
Wisconsin was not an isolated event. Since 2010, Super PACs and corporations have spent record amounts of money in elections nationwide. Corporate spending soared during the 2010 election cycle to over $290 million, four times more than the previous mid-term elections in 2006.
Most of this spending would not have been possible without the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission decision. Before Citizens United, individuals could not contribute more than $10,000 to Wisconsin candidates and political committees (PACs)– corporate entities or groups of people that contribute to political campaigns. But this all changed when the Supreme Court allowed anyone to spend an unlimited amount on PACs and let corporations and wealthy individuals spend unlimited money on political campaign advertisements. Due to a loophole in state law, Walker could also raise unlimited amounts from individual donors while his opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, had a limit on the dollar amount of contributions.
So how do progressives move forward? The Wisconsin election shows that we will not have a government of, by and for the people as long as we have politicians who are bought and paid for by special interests. Powerful corporations and wealthy donors spent millions on the Wisconsin race because they benefit most from the system: tax loopholes for corporations, tax handouts for the rich, while America’s heroes—cops, firefighters, and teachers—pay the tab.
We need to put power back in the hands of the people. That’s why this week, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which I Co-Chair with Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, is partnering with local governments across the country for Resolutions Week, a nationwide effort to get money out of politics. Throughout the week, local leaders will introduce resolutions supporting a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. I am proud to announce that in my hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota, the City Council will adopt its own resolution on Friday, June 15.
We are not the only ones–more than 100 state and local governments have already introduced similar resolutions. In March, the Alaska Senate passed an amendment proposing that Congress and the President pass a constitutional amendment to stop limitless independent expenditures to influence elections, and the California State Assembly passed a similar resolution. Montana is acting to overturn Citizens United with a petition on their ballot in November.
Several members of Congress have introduced constitutional amendments to overturn Citizens United. While protecting the freedom of the press, my own Get Corporate Money out of Politics Amendment clearly states that corporations are not people. They do not vote, they do not serve in office, and they should not be able to buy our elections.
If we learned anything from Wisconsin, it’s that money should not be able to drown out the voice of the people. But by working together, we can restore a democracy of the people, by the people, and for the people.
U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th District Keith Ellison is the Co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.