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Conservative Wisconsin Election Plan Advanced

MILWAUKEE (CN) - A conservative advocacy group would not violate Wisconsin's campaign-finance laws by highlighting candidates in the upcoming elections, a federal judge ruled.

In a complaint filed earlier this month, Citizens for Responsible Government Advocates Inc. (CRG) explained that the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board had already come down on it over its plans for a campaign called Take Charge Wisconsin.

The project would spotlight certain "fiscally conservative" Wisconsin candidates, including Kim Simac, Carl Pettis and Jason Arnold, featuring "the stories of citizens who have served in office or are running for office to promote common-sense conservative fiscal policies," according to the complaint.

In addition to promoting "conservative fiscal policies," the site will highlight examples of government inefficiencies and waste, CRG says.

CRG sued various members of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board and Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm to solidify its legal standing before launching the campaign in question.

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa granted CRG a preliminary injunction Tuesday since "the general election is only three weeks away ... [and] any further delay threatens to negate the effectiveness of CRG's requested relief."

CRG may also succeed on the merits, the court found, rejecting claims by the defendants that the campaign violates Wisconsin campaign-finance laws because it endorses certain candidates.

As the U.S. Supreme Court found this year in McCutcheon v. F.E.C. , "any regulation 'must target ... what we have called 'quid pro quo' corruption or its appearance. That Latin phrase captures the notion of a direct exchange of an official act for money,'" according to the ruling.

"This court therefore concluded [in O'Keefe v. Schmitz] that a 'candidate's coordination with and approval of issue advocacy speech, along with the fact that the speech may benefit his or her campaign because the position taken on the issue coincides with his or her own, does not rise to the level of "favors for cash," or a "direct exchange of an official act for money,''" Randa continued.

CRG thus deserves a preliminary injunction that prevents the defendants from enforcing the campaign-finance laws against any communication expenditures, "except as applied to expenditures for communications that expressly advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate," according to the ruling.

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