State agrees to cease enforcing aggregate contribution limits

Published on: May 9, 2014

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In response to a lawsuit filed by WILL, lawyers for the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (“GAB”) have agreed to an order entered in federal court declaring Wisconsin’s aggregate campaign contribution limits unconstitutional.  In June of 2013, WILL filed a lawsuit on behalf of an individual, Fred Young, challenging a Wisconsin statute stemming from the 1970s that made it unlawful for an individual to contribute more than $10,000 in the aggregate per year to all candidates for state office and political committees.  Under the statute, if an individual made the maximum lawful contribution of $10,000 to a single candidate for state-wide office, the individual was then barred from making any other contribution, in any amount, to any other candidate for state office or to any political action committee in the same year.

WILL filed the lawsuit in tandem with an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court for the Shaun McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission case, which raised a similar challenge to the federal aggregate limits.  On April 2, 2014, the Supreme Court struck down the federal law as violating the First Amendment right to fully participate in the democratic process.

The state limit, which was even more restrictive than the federal limit struck down in McCutcheon, also violates the Constitution.  In recognition of its losing position, the GAB agreed to settle with WILL’s client, agreeing to a judgment declaring the limit unconstitutional, an injunction against enforcing the limit, and paying WILL attorney fees.

“The Supreme Court has made clear that campaign contributions are protected by the freedoms of speech and association,” said Rick Esenberg, President and General Counsel of WILL.  “They may be restricted only to prevent the risk of corrupting a candidate.  Obviously that interest is not served by limiting the number of lawful contributions that one can make.  This is a good day for the First Amendment.”

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