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SPECIAL SECTION

Rock County 'We the People' referendum to hit ballot

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Neil Johnson
Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Voters will decide Tuesday if Rock County should join a growing list of local governments in Wisconsin that oppose the U.S. Supreme Court’s controversial 2010 Citizens United decision.

A referendum brought by the Rock County Board asks voters whether the county should adopt a resolution that pushes against the expansion of corporations’ political speech rights and “unregulated political contributions and spending.”

That’s the county board’s read on a sweeping 2010 Supreme Court decision that upheld corporations and other groups’ rights to spend money on political speech, including campaign season advertising with fewer government restrictions.

The county’s referendum is a rip-and-read of dozens of similar referendums and municipal and town resolutions that have passed throughout the state as so-called “We the People” resolutions.

As written, the Rock County referendum states that, if approved, the county would support a request for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would state:

— Only human beings are endowed with constitutional rights—not corporations, unions, nonprofits or other artificial entities, and

— Money is not speech, and therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting speech.

The referendum and others like it are part of a nationwide campaign by local governments and grassroots groups that seek federal rules to limit the influence corporations, unions or similar entities could have on government through large-scale political contributions and political advertising.

Eleven municipal and town governments in Rock County have passed similar “We the People” resolutions, either through ballot referendums or resolutions approved by a majority of elected officials.

Legislatures of 17 states have supported similar resolutions and have asked the federal government for the same constitutional amendment, according to United to Amend, a national grassroots group that supports “We the People” resolutions.

If Rock County voters approve the referendum, county Clerk Lisa Tollefson said, the county board would send the resolution with a letter to the Wisconsin Legislature.

Some who defend the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling argue that free speech extends to political speech, and the right should be defended for any group of citizens, regardless of the amount of money a group would spend on political speech.



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