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Appeals court denies campaign finance law motion

Associated Press Writer

MILWAUKEE (AP) — A state appeals court turned aside a request Friday from Wisconsin Right to Life to block the public financing system from providing matching funds to candidates for Tuesday’s Supreme Court election.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling came hours after the anti-abortion group filed an emergency request for an injunction pending an appeal.

Wisconsin Right to Life, the Wisconsin Center for Economic Prosperity and school choice advocate George Mitchell filed a lawsuit in 2009, contending the law violated their free speech rights and wanted to halt the public financing process for this election. They argued the matching money led them to self-censor their spending.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge William Connelly ruled against it, writing that he was upholding the law in light of the state’s compelling interest in avoiding the perception that Supreme Court elections are tainted with an appearance of bias.

The motion filed Friday said they are likely to succeed on merit, saying the so-called rescue fund provision is unconstitutional. It sends a candidate a matching amount of money, up to $900,000 in the general election, if the opponent or a third party group outspends them. The one-page order from the appeals court only said the motion was denied.

The group also filed a notice of appeal, the first step in filing an appeal.

Legislators set up public financing in 2009 after critics contended Supreme Court races had grown too expensive, creating concerns justices were beholden to special interest donors. Tuesday’s election — between Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser and challenger Joanne Kloppenburg — marks the first time the system has come into play.

Under the law, called the Impartial Justice Act, eligible candidates could get a $100,000 grant in public money for a primary campaign and another $300,000 grant for a general election run.

They would be eligible for additional public funding if opponents spend more than $360,000 on certain kinds of advertising advocating against them. So far, about $13,000 has been spent toward that $360,000 trigger, according to the federal judge’s order Thursday.

Wisconsin Right for Life group’s lawyer James Bopp, Jr., the Wisconsin Department of Justice and the Government Accountability Board could not immediately be reached for comment on the appeals court action Friday.

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