On Tuesday, La Crosse joined numerous other communities calling for an amendment to get unlimited donations out of politics. As an election ramps up, so do the ads, more and more each day until we finally head out to the polls… but is the money behind some of that too much?
La Crosse voters say yes.
An advisory referendum passed by a whopping 88% to 12% margin asking for a constitutional amendment to essentially overturn the controversial Citizens United v Federal Election Commission decision in the supreme court.
Gary and Pam Knudtson spearheaded the movement in La Crosse. In order to get a referendum like that on the ballot, signatures numbering at least 15% of those who voted in the previous gubernatorial election have to be collected. That's over 3000 for La Crosse, all of which had to be done in under 60 days.
"[There's] such a huge political machinery going on in this country that it's a major concern about who our politicians are listening to," Gary Knudtson said.
The decision defined donations from corporations and labor unions as protected speech under the first amendment and allowed unlimited donations as long as they were through so-called super PACs and non profit advocacy groups.
"They don't like all the money coming in that may look like it's coming from somewhere else and people trying to affect an outcome who aren't the voters in a race," said UW-La Crosse professor of political science Tim Dale.
The charge to overturn it since has typically been led by democrats, but some referendums seem to show more bipartisan support. La Crosse joined 129 other Wisconsin communities passing similar resolutions with an average support between 70% and 90%.
"People from either side did not identify themselves when they said they agreed with us," Pam Knudtson said. "But when you have that many people agreeing with you, you know that they are from both sides."
Governor Walker has avoided stating his specific stance on the Citizen’s United decision, but in a tweet Tuesday he expressed frustrations with special interests flooding the state with "distorted facts and misinformation".
"People typically do not say that they dislike money from their causes, they dislike money from other people's causes," said Dale "So when someone says they don't want special interest money in politics, they're saying the sides that they don't agree with."
Support or no, the road to a United States constitutional amendment is long and arduous. Critics like La Crosse County Republican Party Chairmen Bill Feehan say it is entirely symbolic and a fruitless effort.
"It requires a two thirds vote of congress, or a convention of the states and a two third vote of the states," Feehan said. "Neither of those things are even remotely possibly going to happen."
Feehan also pointed out that the La Crosse advisory referendum was only city-wide, and that he believes a county-wide or state-wide referendum would likely be much closer.
Members on both sides of the aisle raised concerns of non-profit advocacy groups, mainly because donations to those unlike super PACs are not required to be publicly disclosed, leading to less campaign finance transparency overall.
Americans For Prosperity is one of those advocacy groups in question. They said in a statement to News 19 the reason they keep their donors anonymous has to do with the high number of death threats often received and that the referendum is an inappropriate attack on freedom of speech.