This column presents facts regarding the United States Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Wisconsin State Constitution, and various other documents in reference to modern topics. Mark hopes to encourage interest in those works so that others can consider whether our government is practicing within its constitutional limits. In the last category, he may indicate his opinion. Mark is a resident of New Berlin. Readers are encouraged to visit the following sites for more information on the United States Constitution and Thomas Jefferson's views on politics and government.
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal; Aug. 1, 2010
Madison — An unlikely duo of a conservative group and a liberal organization together have brought a lawsuit to block a new state rule regulating political issue ads and messages that took effect Sunday.
Wisconsin Club for Growth and One Wisconsin Now said in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Madison that the state agency behind the rule overstepped its authority and violated their constitutional right to free speech.
The rule by the Government Accountability Board (GAB) requires groups that air ads or make communications heaping praise on or criticizing political candidates to disclose where they get their money and how they spend it - even if those groups don't specifically urge their audience to vote for or against the candidate.
The rule was passed in March by the board, which administers state elections, and passed its final hurdle after the Democrat-controlled Legislature did not object to it.
One Wisconsin Now currently has a website, the Scott Walker Failure Files, that criticizes the record of Milwaukee County executive and GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker. The liberal group doesn't run large advertising campaigns, relying instead on doing research on candidates such as Walker that it distributes on its website and shares with the news media. Until now, the group has not had to disclose its sources of funding for such efforts, beyond saying that its money comes from like-minded individuals and labor unions.
"This law would regulate the Internet in a way that it's never been regulated before," Ross said of the rule. "We would have to hire new staff just to put out a press release to talk about issues we've been talking about for years."
Wisconsin Right to Life also is considering suing the Accountability Board to block the rule, said Susan Armacost, lobbying and political director for the abortion-opponent group, which is not part of the lawsuit filed by the other groups. Armacost said the rule would place potentially harsh criminal penalties - up to and including felonies - on those who fail to follow the rule.
"It is absolutely chilling to free speech," she said.
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Definitions from the Government Accountability Board website
11.01 “Committee” or “political committee” means any person other than an individual and any combination of 2 or more persons, permanent or temporary, which makes or accepts contributions or makes disbursements, whether or not engaged in activities which are exclusively political, except that a “committee” does not include a political “group” under this chapter.
11.05 Registration of political committees, groups and individuals. (1) COMMITTEES AND GROUPS. Except as provided in s. 9.10 (2) (d), every committee other than a personal campaign committee which makes or accepts contributions, incurs obligations, or makes disbursements in a calendar year in an aggregate amount in excess of $25, and every political group subject to registration under s. …….
From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Aug. 13, 2010(full article available on-line)
Madison — Piling on to an agreement already reached in a federal lawsuit, a divided state Supreme Court put a freeze late Friday on a state rule regulating political ads and messages in the run-up to elections.
The order goes beyond an agreement already reached in a federal case between the Government Accountability Board and two groups that are suing the state elections agency because they say the rule violates their right to free speech. In an unusual action, the Supreme Court decided 4-3 to place a temporary injunction on the rule even though they have not yet agreed to hear the case.
In the state lawsuit filed Monday, Americans for Prosperity and its fellow plaintiffs asked the state Supreme Court directly to take up their claim that the rules are unconstitutional rather than have the case heard first in a lower court.
But the agreement left in place other controversial aspects of the rule that require disclosure not just for expensive television ad campaigns but for Internet-only campaigns and anything else that costs more than $25 to disseminate. In addition, that agreement has yet to be approved by U.S. District Judge William M. Conley in Madison, who still hasn't decided whether federal court is the appropriate venue for the case. The Accountability Board, however, has agreed to abide by the agreement regardless.
The First Amendment of the Wisconsin Constitution vs. Six unelected retired judges
US Constitution, First Amendment; Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Wisconsin State Constitution, Article 1, SECTION 3.
Every person may freely speak, write and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right, and no laws shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press. …………
An excerpt from the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed
We the People:
Notice the lack of qualifiers in the US Constitution regarding restraint of the federal government. The Wisconsin state constitution acknowledges abuse and each person’s responsibility within the state’s authority. You see how difficult speech limitations are to control at the state level, but the people are more able to participate there. It would be nearly impossible to thwart at the federal level without that absolute wording in the US Constitution. The federal judge is right to consider whether he has jurisdiction.
So six state political appointees believe they may decide what groups deserve a license to communicate about political candidates. Per the definition above, can they define a husband and wife who spend $26 on a yard-sign as a “committee”? If AFP and the other groups had not asked the state Supreme Court to intervene, the GAB would have delayed appeals until after November, and speech from all political parties would have been controlled at a most-critical election time.
This assault on political speech occurred without the consent of the governed. The Democrat-controlled legislature maneuvered around their accountability. They passed no law. They did not have the courage to bring it to the floor for debate and record their votes. Ladies and Gentlemen, elections have consequences.