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April 10, 2013

Groups Applaud West Virginia Legislature’s Resolution for Constitutional Amendment Opposing Corporate Money in Politics

West Virginia Is 12th State to Call for an Amendment That Would Return Democracy to the People

CHARLESTON, WV – A diverse coalition of good-government groups commends West Virginia’s Legislature for approving a resolution that asks Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to end the corrosive influence of corporate money in politics and restore constitutional rights to the people. The historic resolution passed with strong support in a Senate voice vote, following a 60-39 bipartisan vote in the House. This makes West Virginia the 12th state to call for this reform.

Momentum is building nationwide for a constitutional response to the flood of money from corporations and the ultra-wealthy that has inundated elections since the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

In West Virginia, the 2012 election brought special attention to the problem of money in politics, with the state launching a new pilot program for public funding in judicial races. Also, former Attorney General Darrell McGraw, who lost his re-election bid, was reportedly outspent by a margin of 6-to-1. This includes $1.6 million that went toward negative ads financed by the Center for Individual Freedom, an outside group that does not disclose its donors.

Today’s vote means that, since the Citizens United decision, 12 states and the District of Columbia have shown support for a constitutional amendment. About 500 local governments have called for an amendment, as have more than 125 members of Congress. President Barack Obama has expressed support for an amendment as well.

“I am pleased that the Senate joined the House in voting to send Congress this message calling for a constitutional amendment to correct the situation created by the Citizens United decision. Debate and free speech are crucial to our democracy, but a corporate interest, controlled by an anonymous select few, should not be able to spend an unlimited amount of money to spread its specific message,” said House Speaker Rick Thompson (D-Wayne).

Former Secretary of State Edgar (Hike) Heiskell, III said, ”Passage of the resolution is something that should make every West Virginian proud, because overturning the effects of Citizens United is a burning issue in the United States, and West Virginia is now in the forefront of this movement nationally. We hope all remaining states will join ranks with us and continue the march to get a constitutional amendment passed that will restore to our elections process the integrity and accountability that was destroyed by the Citizens United decision.” Heiskell served as chairman of the Committee on Election Reform of the National Association of Secretaries of State in 1974-5.

Leaders from groups involved in pushing for this resolution said the following:

“Now that West Virginia is the 12th state to call for an amendment to fix Citizens United v. FEC, our work has just begun. We must now press our members of Congress to follow through and fix this damaging misconception that a corporation is a person,” said Gary Zuckett, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Action Group and co-founder of West Virginians for Democracy.

“In the wake of an election with astronomical spending records, this resolution by West Virginians sends a loud message that the people believe democracy is not for sale and constitutional rights are for people, not corporations. This passage came as a result of a powerful alliance between West Virginia labor, environmental and community groups. The call to limit corporate spending in elections resonates with people across the political spectrum and across the country who care about a wide range of issues. West Virginia is the first state this year and the 12th state to call for an amendment. The tide in this country is turning,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.

“Our success in enlisting the state of West Virginia in this effort to correct serious errors in the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment is a victory for everyone in this state, whether they realize it or not. We could not have accomplished this first goal without support from our partners, including environmental, labor, health and human rights organizations,” said Barbara Frierson, co-founder of West Virginians for Democracy.

“Spending in our democratic process should include disclosure and transparency rules, but that alone is not enough. Our democracy should not be for sale to the highest bidder, and constitutional rights should be preserved for individuals, not corporations. With another state added to the list of states calling for a constitutional amendment that will protect constitutional rights for people, we can hopefully apply more pressure on our federal representatives to listen to the wishes of citizens not only in West Virginia but throughout the country,” said Elaine Harris, representative for Communications Workers of America.

Below is a complete list of organizations supporting this resolution:

AFSCME West Virginia
American Federation of Teachers (AFT) West Virginia
American Friends Service Committee
Coal River Mountain Watch
Communications Workers of America (CWA) – West Virginia
Fairness West Virginia
Marshall University Democracy Matters
Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
Public Citizen
SEIU 1199
Seneca 2
Sierra Club West Virginia Chapter
West Virginians for Affordable Health Care (WVAHC)
West Virginia Citizens Action Group
West Virginians for Democracy
West Virginia Rivers Coalition

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