May 20, 2014

Campaign Finance

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Last week, the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals issued a decision to strike down significant portions of Wisconsin’s protective campaign finance law, urging Wisconsin legislators to rewrite the state’s laws on campaign finance. The decision comes as a consequence of the widely opposed Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United in 2010. As a ranking member of the Senate Committee on Elections and Urban Affairs and a legislator who strives to use my role in public office to stand up for the least among us, I was quite troubled to hear this news. This decision comes to the citizens of Wisconsin as we have seen a movement which seeks to give corporations and lobbyists even more power to influence our legislative system, take hold across the country. While I believe that everyone (no matter your income level) should have a say in policy making, I believe that every citizen should have an equal say, and influence should not be disproportionally granted to the wealthy.

A recent study done by Princeton University and Northwestern University looked into who was influencing elections and how. What they found was truly disturbing conclusion: the lopsided influence of wealthy interest groups has distorted our governmental system to the extent that ordinary Americans can no longer necessarily be considered as participating citizens of a democracy. Instead, recent rulings have contributed to America’s standing as an oligarchy¸ or more specifically, being governed by “Economic Elite Domination” in which the wealthy individuals and corporations have the ability to shape policy.  

Some of my Republican colleagues have called this worrying decision a “victory for allies of the First Amendment,” but the First Amendment should not be used as a tool by the wealthy to overwhelm and silence others. Freedom and individual liberty is protected and our society is most healthy when the individuals who are casting votes are informed, and have an equal opportunity to make their voices heard. Allowing the free exchange of ideas cannot come at the expense of a person’s voice being stifled. The First Amendment should not be used as a tool by the wealthy to overwhelm and silence others.

In contrast to Wisconsin’s longstanding tradition of free and fair elections, new rulings like this will allow such funding to be anonymous, further shutting out the public from the legislative process. I feel strongly that through the elimination of reporting requirements and concealment of campaign advertisers’ identities, the Seventh Circuit Court has cast a dark shadow over the political process. Voters have a right to know who is influencing Wisconsin’s elections, and they need to be able to discern between the messages flooding the state’s airwaves.

As ranking member on the Senate Elections and Urban Affairs Committee, I accept the task of standing up for the least among us and the millions of Wisconsinites who want their voices heard, and I will continue to fight for legislation the helps to protect and balance the freedom of speech while promoting greater transparency in our state.

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