Federal Judge J.P. Stadtmueller issued an order today enjoining enforcement of Wisconsin campaign finance law against Town of Whitewater resident John Swaffer in the April 1 election. The law requires that anyone spending over $25.00 or donating $100.00 to support or defeat a referendum must register with the Government Accountability Board, open a separate bank account, appoint a treasurer, disclose donors’ identities and personal information, and continue filing reports for up to three years.
First Freedoms Foundation general counsel Mike Dean and Attorney James Bopp filed the action March 10 because Swaffer wanted to send postcards to Town residents opposing a referendum authorizing liquor sales that Town supervisors had placed on the April 1 ballot. But Swaffer was reluctant because his friend Charles Hatchett had been investigated and threatened with criminal prosecution in 2006 for failing to register before sending out postcards opposing a similar referendum.
Swaffer thought the law made it hard for ordinary citizens to communicate with friends and neighbors, but was even more concerned that public registration might make him a target of Town officials who supported the referendum. Swaffer learned several weeks ago that the Town chairman had told Hatchett’s son that the referendum was on the ballot again and that “You better not be opposing it.” So Swaffer decided he had no choice and filed suit.
Coincidentally, Judge Stadtmueller’s order may also affect Brookfield surgeon James Hollowell, whose March 11 Journal-Sentinel ad about the upcoming Elmbrook school referendum got him in trouble. District officials apparently didn’t like his ad, so they contacted Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel. Like Hatchett and Bartz, Hollowell had no idea it was illegal to inform the public about a political issue without registering, and he too had wanted to remain anonymous because he works with youth sports clubs and feared retaliation from district officials who had been grudging in allowing the clubs to use school district facilities.
It’s about time…
Is this an example of judicial activism?