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MADISON – Seven years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, more money than ever is pouring into election races. The Court’s decision has also led to a powerful grassroots response that is making big gains for campaign finance reform around the country. More than 100 communities in Wisconsin and eighteen states have passed resolutions or referenda to overturn Citizens United, while others have enacted reforms empowering everyday voters over big donors in elections.
“Citizens United struck a blow to our democracy, now it’s our job to rebuild,” said Peter Skopec, Director of the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG). “We have the tools, we have the support, and state-by-state, city-by-city, this movement is winning reforms that change how America does elections. The solution to Citizens United is simple: build a democracy that prioritizes citizen engagement over big donor fundraising.”
In 2010, the Supreme Court struck down limits on election spending by outside groups, allowing Super PACs and dark money organizations to funnel unlimited funding into elections. The 2016 elections ranked as the most expensive in United States history, featuring nearly twice as much super PAC spending as our last presidential cycle thanks to a small handful of donors. Additionally, a WISPIRG report that analyzed 2016’s 34 U.S. Senate races found that 77 percent of funding came from out-of-state donors and special interests. In Wisconsin’s Senate race, almost two of every three dollars came from out of state.
“Big money’s growing influence is making our politics less representative and less responsive,” added Skopec. “We applaud Representative Subeck and Senator Hansen for re-introducing resolutions that would allow all Wisconsinites to have their voices heard on this issue through a statewide advisory referendum over Citizens United.”
Eighteen states and over 700 communities nationwide have called for an amendment to overturn Citizens United. Polls show that a vast majority of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents support overturning the decision.
States, cities, and local municipalities have also passed small donor empowerment reforms that give regular voters a fair voice in our elections by encouraging candidates to raise funds from small donors in Maine, Maryland, Oregon, and Washington.
Finally, states are enacting automatic voter registration (AVR) laws which extend access to the polls to all residents eligible to vote. Since 2015, six states from Alaska, to West Virginia to Connecticut have enacted AVR through ballot initiatives, legislative changes, and administrative action. In Oregon, where AVR took effect in 2016, the program helped to strengthen voter engagement and break state records for voter turnout.
The Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG) is a non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society.
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