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By U.S. PIRG Democracy Intern Matthew Flyr
On May 31st, the Illinois General Assembly voted to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and related decisions.
The bipartisan vote followed referenda across the state supported by three-quarters of Illinois voters. The overwhelming backing for the amendment—aided by Illinois PIRG’s steady efforts including a press conference with coalition partners in Springfield, lobbying legislators, and widespread canvassing—adds voice to the clear message being sent to the nation’s elected officials: it’s time to get big money out of our elections.
Less than two weeks after Illinois’s great step forward, a bipartisan majority in both houses of Delaware’s General Assembly has passed a similar resolution calling for a constitutional amendment. We applaud the leadership of our coalition partners and legislative champions on this effort.
With the votes, Illinois and Delaware joined a steadily growing list, including 13 other states and nearly 500 municipalities, calling for an amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision to equate money as speech and corporations as people.
In its Citizens United ruling, a devastating misinterpretation of the First Amendment, the Supreme Court opened the door for unlimited election spending by corporations and wealthy individuals through Super PACs. It also cleared the way for secret spending through “dark money” groups that are not required to disclose their donors, thus denying voters the chance to make informed decisions in elections.
The Citizens United decision effectively drowns out the voice of the average citizen whose small donations stand no chance of competing with the larger corporate donations. In fact, in the 2012 presidential election, the top 32 Super PAC donors—giving an average of $9.9 million each—matched the $313 million that President Obama and Mitt Romney raised from all of their small donors combined.
There is no inherent problem with money in elections; but when a few loud voices overpower the majority, it is clear that our campaign finance system needs change. The undue influence wielded by corporations and the few, wealthy elite, undercuts the American value of political equality where all voices are meant to hold equal influence.
Illinois and Delaware voters and legislators have decided that enough is enough. They believe our government should be of, by, and for the people—not of, by, and for the corporations.
Their votes to reject Citizens United give momentum to the movement to get our country back on track. As I write, Oregon and New Hampshire are considering similar actions, and this momentum is certain to grow.
The message from these states is clear: Believing that the size of your wallet should not determine the volume of your voice, Americans are disgusted with the role of big money in elections, and they know it is time to overturn Citizens United
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