Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Common Cause
in Wisconsin
Legislative Testimony

Special Session Campaign Finance Reform Committee
February 12, 2008

Chairman Kreitlow and Members of the Committee:

My name is Jay Heck and I am the executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, the state’s largest, non-partisan, non-profit reform advocacy organization in the state with approximately 3,000 members and another 2,000 non-member network allies.

We commend you for holding this hearing today on December 2007 Special Session Senate Bill 1 and on Senate Bill 12 – the sweeping, comprehensive campaign finance reform measure better known as the Ellis-Erpenbach bill, now in its fifth incarnation and which Common Cause in Wisconsin first supported back in 1999 when we first began working first with Senator Ellis and later with Senator Erpenbach to shape this legislation. Because Senate Bill 12 is largely contained in December 2007 Special Session Senate Bill 1, together with full public funding for State Supreme Court candidates who agree to limit campaign spending to $400,000 (Senate Bill 171) as well as adjustments to disclosure requirements for widely disseminated campaign communications masquerading as issue advocacy, to reflect the U.S Supreme Court decision of last June affecting the federal McCain-Feingold law (Senate Bill 77), I will limit my testimony today to speaking in favor of December 2007 Special Session Senate Bill 1. We again commend Governor Jim Doyle for calling the Special Session last November 30th and look forward to working with this committee and with the State Senate and Assembly to pass this much needed landmark legislation and having it enacted into law—the first substantive reform to Wisconsin’s campaign finance reform in three decades.

There are countless reasons why you need to pass this legislation. But with apologies to Late Night host David Letterman, here are Common Cause in Wisconsin’s Top Ten Reasons for Passing December 2007 Special Session Senate Bill 1, although not necessarily in order of importance – because all of them are important.

- This landmark legislation: increases the current and inadequate $1 check off for public financing on the state income tax form to $5 with a partisan option to make checking off the money more attractive. (It would not increase tax liability or decrease the refund by $5) and it creates an additional source of public funding for candidates through the creation of a Public Integrity Endowment (PIE) to be set up and administered through the Government Accountability Board. Individuals, unions, corporations, foundations and anyone else interested in cleaning up state government could contribute to the PIE and be eligible for a 100 percent tax credit. (There is currently no additional source of public funding--only the $1 checks off).

- Provides candidates with full funding for public grants equal to 35% of revised spending limits if they agree to abide by the revised spending limits ($4 Million – Governor; $700,000 – Attorney General; $150,000 – State Senate; $75,000 – State Assembly) and provides complying candidates with additional public funding equal to the amount over the spending limit that their non-complying opponent spends--up to three times the spending limit. (There is currently no such provision in place).

#8 - Provides candidates who are the targets of outside spending by independent expenditure groups or those who run so-called "issue ads" (that depict a candidate 60 days or less before the general election or 30 days or less before the primary) with public funding matches – of to three times the spending limit. (There is currently no such provision in place).

#7 - Requires the disclosure by sham issue ad groups of how much they are spending and who the donors to the organization are. (Currently no disclosure whatsoever is required of these groups).

#6 - Prohibits campaign fund-raising by legislators and statewide elected officials from the time after the election when the governor or governor-elect is preparing the biennial state budget to be introduced until it is enacted into law. (Currently fund raising is rampant during the budget period). This prohibition would apply to declared candidates for legislative and statewide office as well.

#5 - Abolishes legislative campaign committees -- which legislative leaders have utilized to decrease the independence of legislators and which have created, at the very least, the appearance of corruption through the solicitation for campaign contributions in return for the consideration of pending legislation. (Currently, LCCs collect hundreds of thousands of dollars of special interest money).

- Would re-establish the Wisconsin Supreme Court as the citadel of integrity and impartial justice that it once was by imposing realistic voluntary spending limits on campaigns in return for 100 percent publicly-financed grants freeing justices from damaging conflicts of interest with campaign contributors or outside special interest groups who currently seek to influence the outcome of current supreme court elections.

#3 - Complies with the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision involving Wisconsin Right to Life’s challenge to the federal McCain-Feingold law by requiring that communications that are clearly identifiable as attempting to influence the outcome of an election be required to disclose the names of the donors paying for those communications but not require that the funds utilized to pay for the so-called issue ads come from regulated or restricted sources as earlier versions of this legislation and the McCain-Feingold law required prior to the U.S. Supreme Court decision last June. This provision is now in line with regulations issued by the Federal Elections Commission this past December on this matter and we are fully confident that it would withstand any legal scrutiny and court challenge.

- This measure would restore Wisconsin to its rightful place as a national leader in clean, honest and accountable state government in the nation, restore citizen confidence – now at an historic all-time low – in our state elections and in our compromised and corrupted public policy-making process, and finally, help erase the stain of shame and infamy that has cast a dark shadow over Wisconsin since the eruption of our worst political scandal since the 1800’s – the Legislative Caucus Scandal back in 2001.

#1 - Finally, enactment into law of this sweeping reform measure would catapult Wisconsin way ahead of Minnesota, which currently has a campaign finance system in place that is light years ahead of, and better than ours in terms of having issue – driven elections with spending limits and which enjoys very high confidence among its citizens and prevents campaign finance corruption. If Wisconsin can’t do better than Minnesota, then we really need serious therapy because none of us can bear to continue to live with that shame!

Thank you.