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Wisconsin Prosperity Network, Inc. v. Myse

The Brennan Center filed an amicus brief in Wisconsin Prosperity Network, Inc. v. Myse defending the Wisconsin GAB’s administrative judicial disclosure rule.

Published: April 4, 2011

Summary of the Case:  In July 2010, the Wiscon­sin agency charged with admin­is­ter­ing the state’s campaign finance laws — the Govern­ment Account­ab­il­ity Board (“GAB”) — issued an admin­is­trat­ive rule requir­ing disclos­ure and disclaim­ers for certain speech made just before an elec­tion that advoc­ates the elec­tion or defeat of candid­ates for public office.  The rule imple­men­ted a Wiscon­sin stat­ute that mandates disclos­ure of certain acts under­taken for a “polit­ical purpose” — which includes actions taken “for the purpose of influ­en­cing” elec­tions.

Several groups chal­lenged the admin­is­trat­ive rule in two federal lawsuits, and other organ­iz­a­tions and indi­vidu­als — includ­ing Wiscon­sin Prosper­ity Inc. — filed a chal­lenge in the Supreme Court of Wiscon­sin, arguing that the rule viol­ates the First Amend­ment.  The federal lawsuits were stayed pending a ruling from the Supreme Court of Wiscon­sin, and on August 13, 2010, that court gran­ted a tempor­ary injunc­tion barring enforce­ment of the rule “to preserve the status quo.”  On Janu­ary 11, 2011, Wiscon­sin’s Supreme Court sched­uled oral argu­ment in the case for an unspe­cified date in Septem­ber 2011.

On March 8, 2011, the Bren­nan Center filed an amicus brief defend­ing the GAB’s admin­is­trat­ive rule, and urging the court to hold that the rule is fully consist­ent with the First Amend­ment and a long and unbroken chain of U.S. Supreme Court author­ity hold­ing that substan­tial consti­tu­tional interests justify disclos­ure laws that shed light on the flow of money through our polit­ical system. The Wiscon­sin Supreme Court dismissed the case on a 3–3 vote (Justice Prosser did not parti­cip­ate) without consid­er­ing the merits on March 20, 2012.

The Bren­nan Center’s Amicus Brief:  Our amicus brief made two argu­ments.  First, we explained that the disclos­ure of money in polit­ics advances the compel­ling state interest in provid­ing voters with know­ledge of who funds polit­ical campaigns.  The brief noted that only with disclos­ure of who funds campaign commu­nic­a­tions is it possible to have a fully-educated citizenry able to make informed decisions about polit­ical messages — and vote accord­ingly.  Second, we explained that the Wiscon­sin GAB plainly had the consti­tu­tional author­ity to provide voters with this know­ledge under the bind­ing preced­ent of the U.S. Supreme Court, which has repeatedly recog­nized that voters’ inform­a­tional interests justify robust disclos­ure of money in polit­ics. 

Down­load the brief here.

See related Wiscon­sin campaign finance cases here.