Wednesday, May 7, 2014

District Court Halts Wisconsin Political Spending Investigation

Judge Rudolph T. Randa (E.D. Wis.) this week granted a preliminary injunction against a criminal investigation into political spending by the Wisconsin Club for Growth and its director, Eric O'Keefe.  The criminal investigation sought information related to WCFG's coordination with Governor Walker's campaign committee and other 501(c)(4) groups, in violation of Wisconsin law, to promote the passage of Wisconsin Act 10, Governor Walker's (successful) effort to sharply restrict union strength in the state (among other things).  Judge Randa's ruling means that the investigation must stop, at least for now.

The ruling is just the latest chapter in a long-running story involving Wisconsin Act 10, Governor Walker, and advocacy (and spending) around both. 

Judge Randa ruled that the investigation violated free speech, because it "was commenced and conducted 'without a reasonable expectation of obtaining a valid conviction.'"  According to Judge Randa, that's because it was based on an interpretation of Wisconsin law that would have banned coordination on issue advocacy (and not candidate contributions)--something that the First Amendment does not allow.

Judge Randa said that WCFG's issue advocacy was core political speech, and that its coordination with other 501(c)(4)s, and even with the Friends of Scott Walker, did not raise any risk of quid quo pro corruption.  Therefore the state could not criminalize it.

Judge Randa rejected the defendants' argument that WCFG's coordination with Governor Walker's campaign created a quid pro quo problem.  He said that that approach "would mean transforming issue advocacy into express advocacy by interpretative legerdemain and not by any analysis as to why it would rise to the level of quid pro quo corruption."  He said WCFG simply held the same views that Governor Walker already held, and that therefore there was no risk of corruption.

Judge Randa cited McCutcheon throughout and made a special point of quoting Justice Thomas's concurrence on Buckley's demise:

Buckley's distinction between contributions and expenditures appears tenuous.  As Justice Thomas wrote, "what remains of Buckley is a rule without a rationale.  Contributions and expenditures are simply 'two sides of the same First Amendment coin,' and our efforts to distinguish the two have produced mere 'word games' rather than any cognizable principle of constitutional law."  Even under what remains of Buckley, the defendants' legal theory cannot pass constitutional muster.  The plaintiffs have been shut out of the political process merely by association with conservative politicians.  This cannot square with the First Amendment and what it was meant to protect.

Op. at 25.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/conlaw/2014/05/district-court-halts-wisconsin-political-spending-investigation.html

Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink

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