Federal Court Permanently Enjoins Enforcement of Outmoded Campaign Finance Law

Published on: October 15, 2015

Lawsuit paved way for current legislative effort to modernize law

October 15, 2015, Milwaukee, WI – In a lawsuit filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, a federal court has permanently enjoined Wisconsin’s statute that prohibits a political action committee, or PAC, from making a campaign donation to a candidate of even a very small amount if other PAC’s have already made a certain amount of donations to the same candidate. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of CRG Network, a PAC whose mission is to educate citizens and promote the election of candidates who are fiscally responsible. CRG Network attempted to make small donations to three such candidates, only to have their donations returned as a result of the law.

Previously, the court held that this “first in time” system cannot be justified under existing First Amendment law.  According to the court, “CRG cannot be prevented from making a donation up to the base statutory limit simply because of the aggregation of previous donations.”  This decision is one in a series of cases that have held a wide variety of Wisconsin’s campaign finance regulations to be unconstitutional.

Last September, just prior to the 2014 elections, the court issued an injunction barring enforcement of Wisconsin’s aggregate limits law and yesterday made permanent that injunction.

Because of a string of recent court decisions, the Wisconsin Legislature is currently considering reforming and updating its campaign finance statutes and overhauling the elections and ethics watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Board.

“This lawsuit, in conjunction with the other rulings in both federal and state courts, paved the way for the current debate in the State Capitol to modernize Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws.” noted Rick Esenberg, President and General Counsel at WILL. “Bringing Wisconsin statute into accord with modern First Amendment principles will allow for fuller, more robust public policy debates and elections.”

WILL previously (and successfully) challenged the limit on aggregate contributions by individuals contained in Wis. Stat. §11.26(4) in Young v. GAB.  That statute placed a cap on the aggregate amount that individuals were permitted to donate to candidates in Wisconsin.  WILL also filed an amicus brief inMcCutcheon v. FEC early last year, a case in which the United States Supreme Court struck down the aggregate limits applicable to individual donations to candidates for federal office.

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