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Wisconsin Judge Strikes Down Campaign Finance Law

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Wisconsin criminal defense attorney, Wisconsin defense lawyer, federal crimesThe law of campaign finance has been in a state of flux over the past few years. The U.S. Supreme Court issued landmark rulings in cases like Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC. Wisconsin in particular has seen a variety of campaign finance-related rulings stemming from a probe into Governor Walker's recall election. Now another case may have important implications for political action committees and other organizations who fall under the regulations of campaign finance law. The decision in Wisconsin Right to Life v. Barland removes numerous restrictions on campaign spending and other procedural requirements for certain corporations.

The Law in Question

The suit in question was brought by a pair of related organizations, Wisconsin Right to Life Inc (The Corporation), and The Wisconsin Right to Life PAC (The PAC). The lawsuit challenged a plethora of different campaign finance restrictions in Wisconsin as unconstitutional. Three of the most important rules that were challenged were:

  • Wisconsin's ban on political expenditures by corporations;
  • A GAB rule that attempts to regulate issue advocacy as stringently as express advocacy, meaning that it tried to regulate speech on issues as though it were speech for candidates; and
  • Certain registration and reporting requirements that applied broadly to corporations such as 501(c)(4)s.

The suit has made it up to the court of appeals twice, and in its last round there, the court held all three of these rules to be in violation of current constitutional doctrines. The most recent decision took place in the trial court, which entered an injunction on the enforcement of those laws. It also took the uncommon step of requiring that the GAB, an agency responsible for enforcing Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws, post the decision on their website in order to inform people of it.

Freedom of Speech Concerns

The core of the decision centers on issues of freedom of speech as they apply to campaign finance regulation. The First Amendment was designed to protect political speech above all others, and the Supreme Court has held that the ability to contribute to political campaigns is an important way in which citizens may express their political views. Rules such as these that ban corporate contributions or place difficult reporting and registration requirements on people seeking to engage in political speech cut against that goal of preserving free political expression. The court held that overly-strict or overly-vague campaign finance laws improperly chill speech by forcing people to jump through hoops to express their political views.

Campaign finance laws are often changing, and can be particularly complex. If you have recently been charged with a violation of campaign finance law, contact an experienced Milwaukee criminal defense attorney today. Our firm is here to make sure you have someone defending your rights.
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