Does the Constitution protect political contributions as a form of speech?

Should constitutional rights extend beyond individuals to entities like corporations or unions?

Newsletter signup for email alerts

A 2010 Supreme Court ruling concluded "yes" to both questions, but residents of St. Croix County will have a chance to weigh in with their ballots in April.

St. Croix County supervisors voted 14-3, with one abstained vote, to include a resolution on the April 3 ballot pledging the county's support for a U.S. Constitutional amendment for the following specifications: only human beings can have rights, money is not speech and regulating political contributions does not stifle free speech.

Since the 2010 Supreme Court ruling, 18 states passed legislation calling for the amendment.

If the resolution gains voter approval, St. Croix County will join more than 100 communities across Wisconsin in support of the amendment.

Supporters say the amendment would help empower voters whose interests can't compete with those of wealthy individuals and corporations who offer candidates extensive financial backing.

Members of Wisconsin United to Amend, a nonpartisan group that aims to reduce financial influence on policymakers and "restore the authority of 'We The People,'" spoke in support of the resolution.

Among them was New Richmond resident Kay Brooks, who said only candidates with lots of money or donations from super PACs and corporations stand a chance to win elections.

The hefty donations, she said, allow these entities too much influence on elected officials.

"They don't represent their constituents, but rather represent their donors' interest, which generally are to make more money or (gain) more power," Brooks said.

Supervisor Scott Nelson, who voted in favor of the resolution, said he witnessed the financial influence during his recent run for the state Assembly, when he said money was funneled into websites smearing him as a candidate.

Limits on financial contributions, he said, could help prompt candidates to engage more with constituents through efforts like door-knocking.

"There's a lot of great people in this county and the 38th assembly district," he said while discussing his experience visiting voters at their homes. "But, there's a lot of bad people out there who put money in to make sure their ideology is the only one that's going. That's not fair for either side."

Opponents, however, say the Supreme Court's ruling should stand.

River Falls resident Jacqueline Nickum said she was "disturbed" the discussion appeared on the agenda. During the public comments, she passed out an article detailing donors' contributions.

"Corporations are not even heavy contributors, but opponents like to say that they are," she said. "Do you seriously think this resolution will change the supreme court ruling?"

Some supervisors shared Nickum's skepticism.

Supervisor Bob Long said there wasn't enough information presented explaining the Supreme Court's decision to grant corporations the same rights as individuals, while Supervisor Tom Coulter said the issue wasn't the county's business.

"We should be focused on nuts and bolts, running the county," he said. "There's no reason this should be on the county ballot."

Coulter and Long, along with Supervisor Ryan Sicard, accounted for the the three votes against the resolution.