Federal Judge Strikes Down Campaign Reform Law as Expected

December 12, 2002

The campaign finance reform plan (summary) that was enacted last summer as part of a state budget repair bill was ruled unconstitutional Wednesday by U.S. District Court judge Barbara Crabb.

The ruling comes as no surprise because the law was designed to be struck down in court. The legislative leaders who fashioned the plan inserted a provision requiring groups running independent campaigns to give 30 days advance notice of their planned activities. When they planted this poison pill in the plan, they were aware that a 5-day advance notice provision in a campaign finance law passed in Florida had already been ruled unconstitutional. The architects of the Wisconsin law also included a "nonseverability" clause that ensured the entire law would be void if any part of it was struck down in court. Senator John McCain described nonseverability best when opponents sought to include it in the McCain-Feingold reform legislation at the federal level. McCain said nonseverability is "French for killing campaign finance reform."

Knowing that the new law was set up to fail, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign has been operating as if the law was never passed, and is preparing to make the strongest push yet for real campaign finance reform in the upcoming legislative session.