Yesterday, the Wisconsin Right to Life Political Action Committee asked a federal court to prevent Wisconsin’s public funding scheme from being implemented for Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates, asserting it is an unconstitutional infringement of their First Amendment free speech rights. The case will be heard in the Wisconsin western district federal court before Judge William Conley on March 2 at 9:00am.
Under the scheme, supreme court candidates who agree not to fundraise are given initial campaign funds from the state of $300,000, with additional “rescue fund” money of up to $900,000, depending on the amount spent by third parties and their opponents. Those who do not take public funding are limited to $1,000 contributions.
Wisconsin Right to Life’s PAC plans to spend its own money supporting candidates for the upcoming 2011 Wisconsin Supreme Court race. Wisconsin Right to Life wants to stop the inclusion of non-candidate spending in determining when a publicly funded candidate has been out-spent by a traditionally funded opponent and is entitled to rescue funds. The request would also halt rules that require additional reports on its spending because the reports are in place solely to make sure candidates receive additional public funding. Prosperity PAC and Mr. George Mitchell are also plaintiffs who want to give more than $1,000 and seek to enjoin the $1,000 contribution limit.
According to James Bopp, Jr., counsel for all three plaintiffs, “under this system, simply running an ad against a candidate can result in that candidate getting more taxpayer money.” Says Bopp, “people are chilled from speaking in support of a candidate because doing so will likely result in providing additional funds to that candidate’s opponent. And donors are limited in how much they can give to discourage candidates from choosing not to participate.”
The case is Wisconsin Right to Life v. Brennan, et al., 3:09-cv-764. The memo for injunctive relief is available in PDF online at the James Madison Center’s website, here, under the “WRTL v. Brennan.”
James Bopp, Jr. has a national federal and state election law practice. He is General Counsel for the James Madison Center for Free Speech and former Co-Chairman of the Election Law Subcommittee of the Federalist Society. Mr. Bopp argued and won the Wisconsin Right to Life v. FEC landmark free speech case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007.