MILWAUKEE (AP) — State courts should get the first crack at deciding how Wisconsin’s campaign coordination law applies in cases involving political speech that doesn’t explicitly tell people how to vote, an attorney for the board that oversees Wisconsin elections told a federal judge Thursday.
Daniel Kelly asked U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa to dismiss a lawsuit filed Oct. 2 by the Milwaukee-based group Citizens for Responsible Government Advocates. The group has asked Randa to declare unconstitutional a law limiting coordination between third-party organizations and political candidates.
The law is at the center of an investigation into Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign and more than two dozen conservative groups. Randa blocked enforcement of it two weeks ago while the CRG lawsuit was pending.
CRG, which supports Walker, asked him to act because it wanted to work with candidates — not including Walker — before the Nov. 4 election on a website called “Take Charge Wisconsin!” but feared such coordination could be found to be illegal.
Kelly said there has been “a great deal of debate” on how the law applies to so-called issue advocacy and the state courts should have the first chance to weigh in because states have an interest in setting their own campaign finance regulations. He said it’s possible that state courts might find the law doesn’t apply in cases of issue advocacy.
CRG attorney David Rivkin said there should be nothing keeping Randa from making a decision when free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment are involved.
“We’re talking about the most fundamental federal rights,” he said.
Randa asked the attorneys to file additional briefs next week and said he will likely make a decision the following week.