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7th Circuit enjoins limits on 'super' PAC contributions

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A prominent Terre Haute attorney known for his work challenging campaign finance laws and regulations scored another legal victory after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals enjoined state limits on contributions to what’s known as "super" political action committees.

Jim Bopp represents the Wisconsin Right to Life State Political Action Committee, which wants to contribute money to campaigns before the upcoming Wisconsin special-general elections this month. It describes these contributions as "political speech." Bopp argued the state shouldn’t be able to prohibit these independent contributions.

On Monday, a three-judge appellate panel stopped Wisconsin from trying to enforce money limits received by all types of PACs, including those “super PACs” born after the landmark ruling last year in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 130 S. Ct. 876 (2010). That decision allowed for unlimited contributions by corporations, unions, individuals, and private groups for political campaigns, and it effectively lifted many of the spending and contribution limits that had been in place for years federally and in states. Direct contributions and coordination from candidates and political parties is still prohibited, and the donors don’t have to be disclosed.

The four-page order issued by Circuit Judges David F. Hamilton, Daniel Manion, and Ilana Diamond Rovner found the Wisconsin super PAC demonstrated that it’s reasonably likely to succeed on the merits and that a pending Wisconsin Supreme Court case likely won’t resolve the constitutionality of the state law applied to the super PAC.

“Regardless of whether the Wisconsin Supreme Court upholds (Wis. Admin. Code GAB) §1.28, the aggregate contribution limit will apply to contributions WRTL-SPAC receives,” the order states, referring to similar holdings in the District of Columbia, and 4th and 9th Circuits.

With that, the federal panel granted an injunction against Wisconsin – and effectively other states that may try to impose similar limits on PACs – from enforcing a total contribution limit “on any non-coordinated expenditures by individuals or committees.” In this case, that limit was $10,000.

The judges also expedited the appeal, given the special elections are Aug. 9 and 16. The parties have until the first week of September to finish their briefing, and no extensions will be allowed without any extraordinary and unforeseen circumstances. Oral arguments are planned for the week of either Sept. 12 or 19, the order says.

“This is a victory for free speech by super PACs,” said Bopp, with law firm Bopp, Coleson & Bostrom. “It’s flatly unconstitutional to limit contributions to political committees.”
 

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