WI Recall Election Shows Us What Citizens United Has Wrought
On Tuesday, Wisconsinites voted to keep Scott Walker (R) in his gubernatorial seat. While pundits and politicians are drawing a number of lessons from the recall campaign (the third in U.S. history and the first in which the incumbent retained his post), one lesson in particular stands out like a badger in a grass field: Money has too big of an influence in politics in this post-Citizens United world.
Candidates and independent groups spent a total of $63.5 million dollars on the recall campaign, an amount that far surpassed the previous Wisconsin record of $37.4 million, which was set in the 2010 gubernatorial campaign. Of the $63.5 million, Governor Walker’s campaign raised $30.5 million, two-thirds of which came from contributors outside of Wisconsin. In contrast, the Democratic contender, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, raised only $4 million since he entered the race in March. These numbers boil down to Walker having more funds by a margin of 7.5 to 1. Moreover, $22 million of the spending in the race –that’s one-third of the total amount of spending—came from independent expenditure groups that would not have been able to contribute if it wasn’t for the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission allowed corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for or against the election of a particular candidate. As the Center for Public Integrity explains, the ruling, which “had the effect of invalidating Wisconsin’s century-old ban on independent expenditures by corporations and unions — and a state law that allows unlimited contributions to the incumbent in recall elections,” paved the way for the massive amounts of money that flooded the state and the stark imbalance of fundraising between Gov. Walker and Mayor Barrett.
The Citizens ruling is problematic because money can often escalate one’s political voice, skewing the democratic election process and drowning out the voices of those without such funds. Jewish tradition stresses a need for public accountability in a system of governance. Rabbi Yitzhak taught that “A ruler is not to be appointed until the community is first consulted,” (Babylonian Talmud Berachot 55a). In a modern democracy, it is still necessary for elected officials to be accountable to all citizens, not just those with the most money.
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