Friday, February 1, 2008

Our Accomplishments

Common Cause in Wisconsin

  • Common Cause in Wisconsin played a leading role in a statewide effort to secure passage and enactment into law of the "Impartial Justice" measure, legislation that will provide 100 percent public financing to candidates for the Wisconsin Supreme Court who qualify for the public funding and who agree to abide by spending limits of $100,000 in the primary election and $300,000 in the general election. Complying candidates will also be eligible to receive additional matching funds if their opponent decides not to abide by the limits and accept the public financing and if outside groups run independent expenditures against them. The grants will be funded by a new $3 check-off on the state income tax form -- of which $2 will be for state supreme court elections. If this vehicle does not generate sufficient revenue to fully fund candidate and matching grants, sum sufficient funding from the general treasury will be appropriated to fully fund all grants.
    Wisconsin now joins New Mexico and North Carolina as the only states in the nation to provide full public financing in state supreme court elections. Both chambers of the Wisconsin Legislature passed the Impartial Justice legislation on November 5. 2009. Governor Jim Doyle signed it into law on December 1, 2009. CC/WI's leadership role in this reform effort was the subject of this editorial: Reformers win a fight to clean up court races.
  • In June, 2009, Common Cause/Wisconsin single-handedly uncovered and then forced to be removed from the biennial state budget bill, an amendment proposed by the State Senate Majority Leader that would have required the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (G.A.B.) to get legislative approval for any funding to investigate possible corruption and/or other wrongdoing in state government. Enactment of the amendment would have completely undermined the independence and ability of the G.A.B. to be able to investigate corruption -- free from interference from, or control by the Legislature. This was a key component in the establishment of the independent, effective G.A.B. in 2007 (after a four year effort led by CC/Wisconsin) following the biggest political scandal in Wisconsin's history in 2002.
  • With State Senator Michael Ellis, Common Cause in Wisconsin devised the legislation and led the successful four-year fight to enact into law the most sweeping political reform in Wisconsin in thirty years – the establishment of a new state Government Accountability Board (GAB) to replace the ineffective State Elections and Ethics Boards, which had ceased being effective enforcers of state campaign finance and ethics laws. The new law, which passed the Legislature and was signed into law on February 2, 2007, creates a much strong single board with enhanced power to investigate and prosecute corruption and wrongdoing in state government. The new GAB also is funded independently from the Legislature and the members of the GAB--retired appellate judges--must be non-partisan and are not selected by political party or legislative leaders as were members of the former State Elections Board.
  • First proposed and led the effort to eliminate the four partisan legislative caucus staffs – about sixty legislative employees who had been increasingly utilized over the years by the majority and minority leaders in both legislative chambers to do political and campaign work on state time with state resources. CC/WI first proposed their elimination in 1997 and then was the only reform organization that actively worked for their elimination—which occurred in the Assembly in October, 2001 and which was completed in the State Senate in January, 2003.The savings to Wisconsin taxpayers has been about $4 million annually.
  • After suing the state legislative leadership in 2001, CC/WI won a settlement brokered by the state Attorney General that stipulated that any legislator or legislative staff member convicted of a felony or misdemeanor crime for misconduct in office or on the job, must reimburse taxpayers for any and all legal fees paid for by the state while they were under investigation. Three convicted ex-legislators with taxpayer-paid legal fees totaling more than $200,000 have already, or will have to reimburse the state treasury.
  • Common Cause in Wisconsin led the effort in the media to uncover wrongdoing and felony misconduct in the State Capitol on the part of legislative leaders and staff in 2001-2002 culminating in the criminal charging of the Democratic Senate Chair of the Joint Finance Committee, the Democratic State Senate Majority Leader, the Republican Speaker of the Assembly and the Republican Assembly Majority and Assistant Majority Leaders in 2002 – for felony misconduct and other crimes in office. CC/WI was the leading media “go to” organization throughout what was known as the Legislative Caucus Scandal – the most serious political scandal in the history of Wisconsin State Government. In October of 2001, CC/WI uncovered and led the storm of protest against a secret deal concocted by the legislative leadership with the State Elections and Ethics Boards to try to cover up the investigation of wrongdoing in the Summer of 2001.
  • Led the statewide legislative effort to pass and enact into law a measure requiring that every voting machine in Wisconsin provide a verified paper ballot in order to ensure that every vote is counted accurately and to avoid the controversy that has occurred in other states over verifying certain votes cast. The measure was passed in the Legislature in late 2005 and signed into law in early 2006.
  • Led the 1998 bipartisan effort to pass and enact into law a measure requiring that lobbyists report on-line, activity on legislation within 14 days of the lobbying activity. Previously, lobbyists had up to six months to report lobbying activity. This lobbying on-line reporting legislation made Wisconsin the state with the earliest reporting requirement in terms of making known to the public lobbying activity of any state in the nation.
  • Devised with State Senator Michael Ellis, the comprehensive campaign finance reform legislation that has gained the widest bipartisan support as well as that of all the leading Wisconsin newspaper editorial writers, every year since it was first introduced in 1999. Legislators and Wisconsin newspapers consider Common Cause in Wisconsin to be the most respected and effective reform advocacy organization in the state.