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The Right Takes on WI Campaign-Finance Law

(CN) - Wisconsin's campaign-finance law bars a conservative "issue-advocacy" group from working with political candidates, it claims in Federal Court.

Founded eight years ago in Milwaukee, Citizens for Responsible Government Advocates Inc. (CRG) advocates for fiscal conservativism, citizen management of government, and private property rights on a local and statewide basis,

The nonprofit says it maintains a website, advertises about those issues, and hosts educational events featuring political candidates and officeholders, including Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, and U.S. Senator Ron Johnson.

For help with another website it plans to call Take Charge Wisconsin, CRG says it is now allegedly looking to certain "fiscally conservative" Wisconsin candidates, including Kim Simac, Carl Pettis and Jason Arnold.

Take Charge Wisconsin will feature "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 filed Thursday.

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

"Collaboration with Simac, Pettis, and Arnold, as well as other fiscally conservative elected officials and candidates, is central to the creation and ultimately the effectiveness of the Take Charge Wisconsin website," the complaint states. "CRG intends to jointly develop with Simac, Pettis, and Arnold materials documenting how political incentives frustrate the achievement of conservative fiscal policy and describing how they have entered into politics to change the terms of the debate and bring these issues to the fore. These materials, including videos, will highlight specific examples of waste and inefficiency and name names - that is, they will call out the politicians who bear responsibility for wasteful government policies."

On June 20, 2013, however, CRG says the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board allegedly began an investigation of it based on the idea that coordination with political candidates "transforms such purportedly independent disbursements and even true 'issue ads' into in-kind or monetary contributions to a candidate" under Chapter 11 of the Wisconsin Statutes.

CRG emphasizes that it does not make direct or in-kind contributions to political candidates or officeholders, but that certain provisions of the Wisconsin campaign-finance law, Section 11, would criminalize any communication it had with candidates or elected officials on matters of public policy.

"It is ... certain that GAB would deem CRG's proposed issue-advocacy campaign with Kim Simac, Carl Pettis, and Jason Arnold to violate Wisconsin law and subject CRG to campaign-committee status, thereby forcing it to forgo all such issue advocacy or else face criminal investigation and sanctions," the complaint states, abbreviating the board's name.

The complaint filed in Milwaukee names District Attorney John Chisholm as a defendant along with seven GAB officers. It seeks declaratory and injunctive relief for violations of the First and 14th Amendments.

Retired congressman Harold Froehlich is one of the GAB members that CRG sued, along with Judges Thomas Barland, Elsa Lamelas and Timothy Vocke; John Franke; Gerald Nichol; and Kevin Kennedy.

CRG is represented by David Rivkin and others of Baker & Hostetler LLP in Washington, D.C.

Other Wisconsin Republicans sued the accountability board last month, claiming the design of the November ballot gives an unfair advantage to Democrats.

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