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Wis. campaign finance law restricting issue ads is unconstitutional, court rules

In a ruling with stunning implications on political speech in Wisconsin and beyond, the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals declared portions of state campaign finance laws restricting issue ads unconstitutional.

The 88-page decision handed down late Wednesday afternoon sides with Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. and its state political action committee, which sued to block the enforcement of multiple state statutes and rules against groups that spend money for political speech independently of candidates and parties ¬ so called issue advocacy groups.

The 7th Circuit's ruling, legal experts tell Wisconsin Reporter, could cut the legs out from under a secret John Doe investigation into dozens of conservative organizations on a theory that the groups illegally coordinated with Gov. Scott Walker's campaign during the state's partisan recall elections.

In short, the court, on a 3-0 decision, found the state's corporate-speech ban, the ban on political spending by corporations, unconstitutional under the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling that opened up previous restrictions on campaign finance. The appeals court remanded the case to the district court to issue a permanent injunction consistent with the opinion.

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