Wisconsin Family Action sues to strike down campaign finance rule to shield names of its donors

·3 min read

MADISON – A conservative group from Wisconsin is seeking to strike down campaign finance regulations that it says limit its free speech rights.

Wisconsin Family Action on Thursday filed the lawsuit saying it was reluctant to spend money in two congressional races because it feared the Federal Election Commission would try to force it to disclose the names of its donors.

It is asking U.S. District Judge William Griesbach in Green Bay to declare some of the commission’s regulations unconstitutional. Such a ruling would allow the group to spend money without having to name its donors.

The lawsuit alleges the commission is trying to require groups like Wisconsin Family Action to disclose the names of donors who give more than $200 even if the money isn't intended for political efforts.

Wisconsin Family Action has been planning to spend money in the races for Republican U.S. Reps. Glenn Grothman and Tom Tiffany but has held back because of how the commission is interpreting campaign finance laws.

U.S.  Reps. Tom Tiffany, left, and Glenn Grothman, right. A conservative group is seeking to strike down campaign finance regulations that it says limit its free speech rights. Wisconsin Family Action has been planning to spend money in the races for Republican Tiffany and Grothman but has held back because of regulations that may require it to disclose its donors.
U.S. Reps. Tom Tiffany, left, and Glenn Grothman, right. A conservative group is seeking to strike down campaign finance regulations that it says limit its free speech rights. Wisconsin Family Action has been planning to spend money in the races for Republican Tiffany and Grothman but has held back because of regulations that may require it to disclose its donors.

"Like virtually all groups that advocate positions on controversial social issues, and their supporters, WFA and its supporters prize their First Amendment freedom of private association," Wisconsin Family Action attorney Donald A. Daugherty Jr. wrote.

"Their freedom to associate with each other in fulfilling their social, political and ideological goals would be significantly damaged if they could not maintain the privacy of their relationships, as WFA’s supporters would risk all manner of retribution from some who reject WFA’s mission."

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The latest lawsuit comes in response to court rulings that toughened campaign finance regulations to resolve a lawsuit brought by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Stuart McPhail, CREW's senior litigation counsel, argued the new lawsuit misconstrues the state of the regulations. Disclosure is required only for efforts that specifically urge people to vote for a candidate, he said.

"Americans have a right to know who's trying to spend to influence elections, who might be buying favors," McPhail said.

"The group here pretends that what it's asking for doesn't hurt anybody, but it really does. What the group here is asking for is to censor Americans' access to information, vital information, that's needed for democracy."

McPhail said CREW may seek to become involved in the Wisconsin case.

Daugherty, the attorney for Wisconsin Family Action, is a senior attorney with the Institute for Free Speech of Washington, D.C. The institute was founded by Bradley Smith, a former federal election commissioner who has long fought campaign finance regulations.

Daugherty is being assisted in the case by Brookfield attorney Michael Dean.

Separately, Dean is seeking to keep in place subpoenas issued to Wisconsin officials as part of a Republican review of the 2020 election. Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul has sought to block those subpoenas.

Contact Patrick Marley at patrick.marley@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin Family Action sues to strike down campaign finance rule

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