Part of Wisconsin Campaign Finance Law Invalidated by Federal Court

Earlier this year, Tidbits reported on a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision (McCutcheon v. FEC) in which the court struck down individual aggregate contribution limits to federal campaigns. In McCutcheon, the law in question limited how much an individual candidate could receive in total from numerous contributors. The Supreme Court held that the law was an unconstitutional limitation on free speech.

On Friday, September 5, Judge Rudolph Randa of the United States District Court (Eastern Dist. of Wisconsin) in CRG Network v. Barland et al., Case No. 14-C-719 ruled that portions of a similar Wisconsin statute (Wis. Stat. § 11.26(9)) violated the First Amendment. The law similarly limited the amount of campaign contributions candidates could accept in total from Political Action Committees (PACs), political parties, and legislative campaign committees in a campaign period. For example, under the Wisconsin law, a candidate for the Wisconsin Assembly is limited from receiving a total of $7,763 from various PACs, political parties, and campaign committees. Once the candidate receives that amount, he or she must return any further donations back to the donor.

Citing the Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon, Judge Randa stated that “in light of Supreme Court’s increasing impatience with” these types of laws, the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on merits of its claims that § 11.26(9) violates the First Amendment.

Shortly after the Judge Randa’s decision, the Government Accountability Board issued a statement that they intended to follow Judge Randa’s decision thereby getting rid of the limits on the amount of campaign contributions candidates can accept in total from PACs, political parties, and legislative campaign committees during a campaign period. Therefore, under the example above involving a Wisconsin Assembly candidate, there is no longer a limit on how much the candidate can receive in total.

However, the individual contribution limits were not challenged. Therefore, candidates are still limited in how much they may accept from a single PAC or candidate committee under Wis. Stat. § 11.26(2). For example, an individual PAC or candidate committee can still only contribute $1,000 to a Senate candidate during an election cycle, or $500 for Assembly candidates during an election cycle.