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Politics & Government

GAB Posts Court Decisions that Nullify Some Wisconsin Campaign Finance Laws

Federal Judge Charles Clevert ordered the Government Accountability Board to post links for four years, to emphasize that certain state laws no longer apply.

In May, a federal appeals court struck down several Wisconsin campaign finance laws. Essentially, the court and now Judge Clevert told the GAB that it cannot investigate or prosecute corporations that independently spend money to support or oppose a candidate - unless the group specifically tells people to "vote for" or  "vote against" a candidate.

Clevert issued a permanent injunction against the GAB on Friday and ordered it to "conspicuously" post, on its web site, a copy of related court decisions until 2018.

It is unknown how the decision might impact the John Doe investigation that was underway into Gov. Walker's 2012 recall campaign. Prosecutors were examining whether the campaign and third party groups had illegally coordinated activities. Several judges ordered a halt to the probe, indicating they did not believe laws were broken.

The rulings harken back to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2010, known as Citizens United. The high court ruled that corporations, unions and other groups are collections of individuals, so they have the right to collectively spend as much money as they wish, attempting to sway voters. The group, Wisconsin Right to Life took the issue to court, successfully arguing that it had the right to run 'issue ads', to educate voters about candidates' positions.

Matt Rothschild, executive director of the watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign said Tuesday, that Judge Clevert's ruling "is another nail in the coffin of Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws and as a result, phony  issue ads will proliferate from phony independent groups. It’s a good day for dark money, and a bad day for democracy in Wisconsin.”