Last week Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele used his veto powers to stop a local referendum on whether the U.S. Constitution should be amended to strengthen campaign finance restrictions in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. What’s really odd about Abele’s veto is the rationale he used to explain the veto, citing the extra cost associated with putting the referendum on the ballot, a cost Abele estimated to be between $25,000 and $40,000 (emphasis added).
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele used his veto Friday to attempt to stop — for the second time — a local referendum on whether the U.S. Constitution should be amended to beef up campaign finance restrictions.
He vetoed a November ballot question on whether county voters favored having the constitution explicitly say that only people, not corporations, have free speech rights and that money isn’t speech. The County Board approved the measure last month on a 13-5 vote.
The idea behind the change is to combat the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which gave corporations and unions the right to spend freely on political advertisements. Critics of that ruling have said it opened the door to unrestrained spending by wealthy interests, giving them an unfair advantage in elections.
Abele said he agreed with those critical of the ruling, but not the tactic of holding a referendum. The $25,000 to $40,000 it would cost to put the measure on the ballot would be better spent on county services, he said.
Reached for comment regarding Abele’s decision to veto the referendum, Abele Communications Director Brendan Conway noted that the $25,000 to $40,000 figure cited by Abele was reached by the County Comptroller’s office, as outlined in the Fiscal Note below.
While I certainly understand County Executive Abele’s desire to save money by not putting the referendum on the ballot, I believe that the voters of Milwaukee County want (and deserve) an opportunity to have their voices heard on the issue of corporations as people and campaign finance reform. A vote on the proposed referendum may be a symbolic gesture, but the last time I checked voters deserved an opportunity to voice their opinions and air their grievances, and as an employee of the citizens of Milwaukee County Chris Abele should heed their wishes, even if it does mean an extra cost to Milwaukee County (and a small one at that).