By Keith Ellison
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., is co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Last Tuesday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker kept his job, but with a high price tag. In a state of only 6 million people, $60 million was poured into the race, $50 million of which went to Walker. And almost half of that was spent by outside groups — most of them not based in Wisconsin.
This was no isolated event. Since 2010, super PACs and corporations have spent record amounts of money in elections nationwide. Corporate spending soared during the 2010 election cycle to more than $290 million, four times the amount spent in the previous midterm elections in 2006.
Most of this spending would not have been possible without the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission. Before Citizens United, individuals could not contribute more than $10,000 to Wisconsin candidates and political action committees (PACs) — corporate entities or groups of people that contribute to political campaigns. But this all changed when the Supreme Court allowed anyone to spend an unlimited amount on PACs and let corporations and wealthy individuals spend unlimited money on political campaign advertisements. Due to a loophole in state law, Walker could also raise unlimited amounts from individual donors while his opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, had a limit on the dollar amount of contributions.
So how do progressives move forward? The Wisconsin election shows that we will not have a government of, by and for the people as long as we have politicians who are bought and paid for by special interests. Powerful corporations and wealthy donors spent millions on the Wisconsin race because they benefit the most, through tax loopholes for corporations and tax handouts for the rich. Meanwhile, cops, firefighters and teachers pay the tab.
We need to put power back in the hands of the people. That's why this week, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which I co-chair, is partnering with local governments across the country for Resolutions Week, a nationwide effort to get money out of politics. Throughout the week, local leaders will introduce resolutions supporting a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. I am proud that in my hometown of Minneapolis, the City Council will adopt its own resolution on Friday.
More than 100 state and local governments have introduced similar resolutions. In March, the Alaska Senate passed an amendment proposing that Congress and the president pass a constitutional amendment to stop limitless independent expenditures to influence elections, and the California State Assembly passed a similar resolution. Montana is acting to overturn Citizens United with a petition on the state ballot in November.
Several members of Congress have introduced constitutional amendments to overturn Citizens United. While protecting the freedom of the press, my own Get Corporate Money out of Politics Amendment clearly states that corporations are not people. They do not vote, they do not serve in office, and they should not be able to buy our elections.
If we learned anything from Wisconsin, it's that money should not be able to drown out the voice of the people.
This commentary first appeared in the Huffington Post.