West Allis group wants new limits on corporate election influence

Sept. 13, 2011

West Allis - A petition drive in West Allis to limit corporate spending for issue ads to influence political campaigns was kicked off at the West Allis Library on Saturday.

The drive has 60 days to get 3,433 signatures, although the local group is aiming for 4,300 to be on the safe side, said James Ito, an organizer.

Unfavorable Supreme decision

The group, a local arm of the national group also named Move to Amend, wants to amend the U.S. Constitution to reverse a January 2010 Supreme Court ruling - a decision that negated some regulations on corporate giving, said Mary Laan, Milwaukee, co-president of the southeastern Wisconsin Move to Amend group.

The high court ruled that corporations are like individuals with the right to free speech.

But Laan said that opens the door to unlimited corporate spending on issue ads, many of which are negative ads and which do affect elections. People no longer have political power - corporations do, she said.

"Right now, we're being drowned out by corporate money," she said.

Beginning a process

West Allis is the first step for the southeastern Wisconsin group that will try to get their resolution on a local ballot. The resolution states that money is not speech, so contributions can be regulated and that only people are entitled to constitutional rights.

Those resolutions already passed in Madison and in Dane County.

The long-term strategy is to persuade the state Legislature and the Wisconsin's congressional delegation to request that Congress vote on the resolutions, Laan said. A two-thirds majority approval of a proposed constitutional amendment in both houses is needed before it goes to the states. Three-quarters of the states need to ratify the proposed amendment for the constitution to be changed.

The Legislature and Wisconsin's congressional delegation might be persuaded to ask Congress for consideration if enough communities and counties pass the resolutions, Laan said.

72 signatures a day

Meanwhile, volunteers will knock on West Allis doors to get signatures. Since the kickoff, the group has gotten 200 signatures, Ito said, but they have to average 72 per day to meet their goal.

This week they will find out if that pace might be achievable, he said.

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