Citizens United referendum petition called valid in Wauwatosa

Published on: 7/31/2013

A petition asking the city to put to a vote its stance on the Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United has been determined to be valid by the city clerk, and a city committee this week approved a referendum on the issue.

The question on the ballot would read:

"Shall the City of Wauwatosa adopt the following resolution:

"RESOLVED, the City of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, calls for reclaiming democracy from the corrupting effects of undue corporate influence by amending the United States Constitution to establish that:

"1. Only human beings, not corporations, are entitled to constitutional rights, and

"2. Money is not speech, and therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech.

"BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we hereby instruct our state and federal representatives to enact resolutions and legislation to advance this effort."

City Clerk Carla Ledesma said in Tuesday's meeting of the Legislation, Licensing and Communications Committee that the petition met statutory requirements and that, after review by the clerk's office, 4,038 signatures were determined to be valid, exceeding the minimum requirement of 3,640, or 15 percent of the Wauwatosa electors who voted in the November 2010 gubernatorial election.

The resolution is advisory only. Ledesma said the committee could recommend that the Common Council simply adopt the resolution, or put the issue on the next ballot.

Alan Nichols and Joanne Shansky of Grassroots Tosa, which helped gather the signatures with the organizations United Wisconsin and Move to Amend Milwaukee, urged the committee to support a referendum Tuesday night.

"This council is much more effective if we avoid discussions and conversations about things over which we really have no jurisdiction, but which, because they're kind of ideological, divide us and make us work together much less effectively," said Alderman Peter Donegan, who chairs the committee. "So I strongly encourage you to avoid a council discussion and deliberation of this and that we take it to referendum."

Others on the committee concurred, and the vote for referendum was unanimous. The Common Council will weigh in next week.

In the 2010 Citizens United decision, the high court found that the First Amendment protecting free speech did not allow the government to restrict independent political expenditures by corporations or other groups. United Wisconsin, Grassroots Tosa and Move to Amend worked together on the petition in support of the position that the Supreme Court decision increases political spending and gives deep-pocketed interests undue influence.

Since the Citizens United ruling, 16 states and more than 500 municipalities have gone on record calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the ruling, said Erik Kirkstein of United Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, six counties — Chippewa, Dane, Dunn, Douglas, Eau Claire and Jefferson — and eight cities and towns — Madison, West Allis, Whitewater, Fort Atkinson, Westport, Exeter, Oakland, and Koshkonong — have passed similar resolutions, he said.

Petition drives are under way in Shorewood and Whitefish Bay. In addition, an effort at the state level, led by the Money Out, Voters In Wisconsin coalition has attracted sponsors in the Assembly and the Senate in support of a statewide referendum on the matter, Kirkstein said.

Votes from across the country are designed to increase pressure against the decision, he said.

"The referendum is the message," Kirkstein said.