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.