Wisconsin Supreme Court Urged to Affirm Constitutionality of State Restrictions on Coordinated Spending in John Doe Case


Today, the Campaign Legal Center, joined by Democracy 21, Common Cause in Wisconsin and the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, submitted an amici brief to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, to be filed upon leave of the court, in Three Unnamed Petitioners v. Peterson.  The brief urges the court to find Wisconsin’s restrictions on the coordination of expenditures between candidates and outside groups constitutional.  The consolidated case centers around a challenge to a so-called John Doe investigation of alleged illegal coordination between the campaign of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and outside groups.  That investigation has been halted until various challenges are resolved.

The court is considering the argument that if coordinated expenditures do not expressly advocate the election or defeat of candidates, then they cannot be subject to regulation or limitation.  The U.S. Supreme Court specifically rejected that argument in McConnell v. FEC, holding that “there is no reason why Congress may not treat coordinated disbursements for electioneering communications,” i.e., a form of non-express advocacy, “in the same way it treats all other coordinated expenditures.”

“The Supreme Court has been unambiguous in its recognition that expenditures coordinated by outside groups with candidates are little more than ‘disguised contributions’ made to the candidates themselves,” said Tara Malloy, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel.  “These coordinated expenditures do not cease to be ‘disguised contributions’ to candidates simply because the audience is not expressly instructed to vote for or against a candidate.  Striking down Wisconsin's restrictions on coordinated spending would in effect strike down contribution limits to candidates altogether.”

The Legal Center was assisted in the filing of the amici brief by Susan Crawford of Cullen Weston Pines & Bach LLP.

To read the amici brief filed today by the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause in Wisconsin Democracy 21 and the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, click here.