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Plain Talk: Yes, we need referendum on unlimited campaign spending

Plain Talk: Yes, we need referendum on unlimited campaign spending

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It falls into the good-luck-with-that category, but nevertheless the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group and nine other organizations have announced they’re forming a coalition aimed at getting the Wisconsin Legislature to put an advisory referendum on the ballot about the growing problem of unlimited campaign spending.

The referendum would seek to get Wisconsin voters’ opinion on the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates to unlimited campaign spending in recent federal and state elections.

“What to do about the flood of special interest money drowning out regular people’s voices and dominating our government is one of the most pressing issues facing the country today,” WISPIRG’s Joe Rasmussen said in announcing the coalition, which includes the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, the Center for Media and Democracy, and the People for the American Way.

Obviously, there isn’t much that any individual can do to get the court to overturn the decision that has legalized unlimited spending by corporations and shadowy interest groups. But the theory is that if referendums in enough states demonstrate Americans’ distaste for the uncontrolled spending that in turn spurs all those tasteless and endless campaign attack ads, perhaps Congress can be convinced to propose a constitutional amendment that would make such spending illegal.

A report by the national organization Demos and WISPIRG called “Billion Dollar Democracy” reveals that it took just 32 billionaires and corporations giving an average of $9.9 million apiece to super PACS to match every single dollar that small donors gave to the Romney and Obama campaigns in this past presidential election.

“When a tiny group of wealthy donors fuels political campaigns, they get to set the agenda in Washington, and the rest of us are left to argue over that agenda,” pointed out Adam Lioz, one of the report’s authors.

There’s little chance that the current state Legislature, which is itself influenced by big campaign donors, will look favorably on this effort. But, what the heck, it’s worth a try.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com

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