CCP files lawsuit challenging Wis. taxpayer financed judicial campaigns

Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge Randy Koschnick filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s recently passed bill enacting taxpayer funded campaigns for state Supreme Court.

Koschnick is represented by James R. Troupis of Michael Best & Friedrich LLP and Stephen M. Hoersting of the Center for Competitive Politics. The case is Koschnick v. Doyle, 3:09-cv-00767.

“Schemes that give the government power to penalize candidates for exercising their First Amendment rights have been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court and two federal courts,” said Center for Competitive Politics Vice President Stephen M. Hoersting. “A candidate who decides to not accept government welfare in a state Supreme Court race should not be forced to, in effect, reward his opponent’s campaign by simply speaking out.”

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle signed the “Impartial Justice Act” (SB 40) earlier this month. The bill provides $300,000 in initial taxpayer funds to participating candidates with additional “rescue funds” of up to $900,000 available based on the spending of non-participating candidates and independent groups.

Federal judges in Arizona and Connecticut have ruled similar “rescue funds” provisions unconstitutional under the U.S. Supreme Court’s reasoning in Davis v. Federal Election Commission (2008).

The bill includes many other problematic provisions, such as forcing non-participating candidates to print disclaimers on their ads suggesting non-compliance with the law: “This candidate has not agreed to abide by campaign contribution and spending limits.”

Wisconsin Right to Life Political Action Committee filed a similar lawsuit last week challenging the program’s restrictions on independent groups who plan to exercise their First Amendment right to support or oppose candidates in the upcoming 2011 Supreme Court race.

Judge Koschnick is a sitting Circuit Court Judge in Jefferson County and ran for the state Supreme Court in 2009.

The Center for Competitive Politics sent a letter to Gov. Doyle explaining constitutional concerns with the “Impartial Justice Act,” and followed up with an updated letter. CCP Chairman Brad Smith authored this recent op-ed detailing the bill’s constitutional problems in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The Center for Competitive Politics is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to promoting and protecting the First Amendment political rights of speech, assembly and petition.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.