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Wisconsin group pushing for referendum on big campaign spending

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WISPIRG’s Bruce Speight, Wisconsin Catholic Conference’s Barbara Sella (PHOTO: Wisconsin Radio Network)
WISPIRG’s Bruce Speight, Wisconsin Catholic Conference’s Barbara Sella (PHOTO: Wisconsin Radio Network)

MADISON, Wis. (WSAU) -- The upcoming elections are going to be expensive. One Wisconsin group is hoping to change that, but they know it won’t happen overnight.

The Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group, or WISPIRG, is supporting a series of changes that would lead to overturning the U.S.Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case. That’s the case which threw out guidelines on campaign spending seen as a violation of First Amendment rights.

Spokesman Bruce Speight says the huge amount of money coming from a handful of donors is leaving the grassroots donors without a voice. “The Citizens United case worsened what was already a big problem by really opening the floodgates for outside spending in elections, and so this is an effort to reign that in by beginning the process of overturning the Citizens United decision and giving the people of Wisconsin a say in the future of our democracy with a statewide referendum.”

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to reverse a lower court ruling, allowing conservative group Citizens United to advertise a broadcast of “Hillary: The Movie” during the last Presidential campaign.

Speight says 16 other states led by Democrats and Republicans are taking similar action. “States across the political spectrum have taken action in support of overturning Citizens United, and poll after poll including Republicans, Democrats, and Independents with majority support getting big money out of our elections and overturning the Citizens United decision, so this is really an issue where there is really common ground across the political spectrum.”

On Friday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said they are planning to spend 300-million dollars to unseat five Republican Governors, including Wisconsin’s Scott Walker. Walker’s campaign alerted their supporters with a fundraising email sent Friday.

Speight says their research has shown fewer donors are having a disproportionate influence on elections. “In the 2012 election, just 32 mega-donors gave as much as 3.7 million grassroots donors to both the Romney and Obama campaigns, so this is just evidence of an incredibly small number of donors that are just dwarfing the influence of the average voter.”

Democrats have long criticised donors like the Koch brothers and business organizations while Republicans have criticised donors including George Soros and the labor unions. Speight says both sides are guilty of spending a lot of money to win elections.

Total spending on the 2012 election cycle topped $5.2 billion, with over $1 billion coming from outside groups like SuperPACs. WISPIRG says nearly 60% of the total SuperPAC funding came from just 159 individuals making contributions of at least $1 million. Speight adds that Wisconsin has seen a similar trend, with spending totalling $391.9 million in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles, which was more than triple the previous election cycle.

Wisconsin Senate Joint Resolution 68 (SJR68) was introduced last week. If passed, it would bring a statewide referendum to voters in November 2014 asking whether Wisconsin elected leaders should support a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United.

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