MADISON, Wis. (AP) – The state of Wisconsin agreed Thursday to stop enforcing a cap on how much people can donate in total to candidates running for office, ending a federal lawsuit and bringing state law in line with a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
The state Department of Justice released the settlement agreement it reached in the case brought last year by donor Fred Young of Racine. U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman had yet to sign off on the deal ending the lawsuit, which he had put on hold in February pending the outcome of a case in U.S. Supreme Court challenging similar federal limits.
The nation’s high court struck down last month overall limits on how much individual donors can give to multiple candidates for Congress and political committees, saying they were an unconstitutional breech of free-speech rights.
Campaign finance watchers both nationally and in Wisconsin have said that without the aggregate limit, the wealthiest contributors will be able to spend as much as they want on candidates by giving to political parties and political action committees.
The Wisconsin law challenged in the lawsuit prohibits donors from giving more than $10,000 a year to all candidates. The settlement says that in light of the Supreme Court ruling, Wisconsin’s law is unconstitutional so donors now will be able to spend as much as they want in aggregate to PACs and political parties. Those donations can then be spent on individual candidates.
While not defined in state law, the limit for political action committees was set in practice at $10,000. There will no longer be a limit under the agreement reached Thursday.
Young’s attorney, Rick Esenberg, issued a statement saying “This is a good day for the First Amendment.”
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Justice and a spokesman for the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections, declined to comment.
Young’s lawsuit did not challenge separate state limits that cap how much donors can give to individual candidates. Those limits are $10,000 for governor, $1,000 for state senator and $500 for state representative.