Wisconsin Right to Life filed a federal lawsuit Friday seeking to nullify parts of the Impartial Justice Act signed by Gov. Jim Doyle on Dec. 1, saying it infringes on the anti-abortion group's right to free speech.
The complaint asks that a federal court strike down portions of the law that give Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates who accept public financing additional money to counter independent expenditures. The law, which substantially boosts the amount of taxpayer money available for Supreme Court campaigns, allows candidates against whom $320,000 or more is spent by independent groups to get dollar-for-dollar matches from a so-called "rescue fund."
"The state's payment of matching funds ... neutralizes the independent expender's voice when it makes an independent expenditure," according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Madison.
The lawsuit alleges that the rescue fund "creates a chilling effect of WRTL's free exercise of protected speech and imposes a climate of self-censorship."
The law, to be financed by a $3 checkoff on state tax forms, sets a $1,000 limit on individual contributions to candidates who don't take public funding and requires independent groups to report all of their spending and anticipated spending in high court races.
The lawsuit alleges that the requirement that groups report spending that they have "obligated" toward a race is unconstitutionally vague.
The defendants include members of the Government Accountability Board (GAB), State Treasurer Dawn Sass, who will administer the rescue fund, and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm. The law calls for local prosecutors to enforce the law against groups or candidates who violate it. Wisconsin Right to Life is based in Milwaukee.
GAB attorney Michael Haas declined comment on the lawsuit, saying officials hadn't had time to evaluate it yet. The next Supreme Court election will be in 2011.