The Seventh Circuit has seen a lot of action dealing with Wisconsin campaign finance in the past few weeks. First, the circuit court swiftly stepped in to stay a district court's order granting a preliminary injunction.
Next, the Seventh Circuit found that much of Wisconsin's existing campaign finance laws are unconstitutional in light of the Supreme Court's recent political speech jurisprudence.
John Doe Stay
In Wisconsin, John Doe probes "allow prosecutors to compel people to produce documents and give testimony," and are overseen by judges, reports the Journal Sentinel. Shortly after Governor Scott Walker won his recall election, and the passage of Wisconsin's controversial Act 10, which curbs collective bargaining rights, John Chisholm, the Milwaukee County District Attorney, initiated several John Doe probes to investigate campaign fundraising and spending.
The result of those investigations are several lawsuits, three in state and one in federal court, the latter being the case discussed here. In that case, the district court "essentially cleared conservatives of illegal campaigning in Wisconsin's 2011 and 2012 recall races" finding that the John Doe investigations violated Wisconsin Club for Growth's First Amendment speech rights, reports the Journal Sentinel. The court enjoined the prosecutors from continuing the John Doe investigations, and even more surprising, the district court's order also called for the permanent destruction of evidence collected from the investigation.
In uncharacteristic speed, within hours the Seventh Circuit stayed the portion of the injunction that called for the destruction of evidence because destroying the evidence "could moot some or all of the issues on appeal."
Wisconsin Campaign Finance Laws
Wisconsin Right to Life is a pro-life non-profit organization, who also created an affiliated political action committee. In light of Citizen's United, the group filed a federal lawsuit "as a comprehensive challenge to Wisconsin's campaign-finance law." At issue were Wisconsin statutes and regulations that created "an elaborate regulatory regime for campaign finance" in elections, overseeing everything from recordkeeping, registration, reporting, expenditures, contributions, and more.
After a thorough analysis of the Wisconsin laws in question, as well as Supreme Court jurisprudence beginning with Buckley v. Valeo, on down to McCutcheon v. FEC, the Seventh Circuit found that many of the laws "violate the constitutional limits on the government's power to regulate independent political speech" because essentially, the Wisconsin laws had "not been updated to keep pace with the evolution in Supreme Court doctrine marking the boundaries on the government's authority to regulate election-related speech."
As a result, Wisconsin lawmakers have called for updates to the campaign finance laws, reports The Associated Press.
- Court Upholds Illinois Campaign Finance Law (FindLaw's U.S. Seventh Circuit Blog)
- Seventh Circuit Blocks Indiana Law Defunding Planned Parenthood (FindLaw's U.S. Seventh Circuit Blog)
- ACLU of Wisconsin Challenges State Constitution and Marriage Laws (FindLaw's U.S. Seventh Circuit Blog)