Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wisconsin Legislature to Vote on "Impartial Justice" and Phony Issue Ad Reform Legislation This Fall

Press Release
September 15, 2009


Jay Heck – 608/256-2686


Last Thursday, the Common Cause in Wisconsin (CC/WI) State Governing Board met in the State Capitol to hear from key legislators about what would be happening this Fall in the Wisconsin Legislature on the campaign finance reform front. The Board also heard from Wisconsin Lt. Governor Barbara Lawton (the first of the 2010 Gubernatorial candidates invited to speak to the CC/WI Board) who expressed her strong support for full public financing of Wisconsin elections and for other needed political reforms. See: Lawton helps open campaign reform debate

(For some photos of the CC/WI meeting go here.)

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison), the Co-Chair of the "powerful" Joint Finance Committee, and Rep. Jeff Smith (D-Eau Claire), the Chair of the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections, told the board that the Joint Finance Committee would soon be exploring funding options for the so-called "Impartial Justice" legislation: Assembly Bill 65 and Senate Bill 40 -- identical measures that would provide full public financing for qualifying candidates for the Wisconsin Supreme Court who voluntarily agree to abide by a spending limit of $400,000.

To see and hear some of what Pocan and Smith said at the meeting, go here: Lawmakers mull options to pay for Impartial Justice.

Both AB 65 and SB 40 were introduced in February, 2009. On May 27, 2009, a joint public hearing was held by the Assembly and Senate Committees with jurisdiction over campaign finance reform on the Impartial Justice legislation. The Assembly committee voted 4 to 3 to approve AB 65 on June 16, 2009; the Senate Committee voted 3 to 2 for approval of SB 40 on August 18, 2009. Both votes in both committees were along party lines. The legislation can now be scheduled for consideration in both chambers after they clear the Joint Finance Committee - where the final funding mechanism will be determined.

Governor Jim Doyle has promised to sign this reform measure into law.

Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton), who has been a campaign finance reform leader for years, said that he expected the Senate Committee with jurisdiction over Campaign Finance reform to act as soon as this week on Senate Bill 43, a bipartisan proposal requiring disclosure of the donors and regulation of the money of outside special interest groups that run widely-disseminated campaign communications masquerading as issue advocacy during the period of 60 days or less prior to an election. This electioneering disclosure and regulation legislation mirrors new rules approved by the state Government Accountability Board in November 2008. An identical Assembly version of the legislation, Assembly Bill 63 was passed in the Assembly Committee in June on a bipartisan 6 to 1 vote.

In May 2007, similar legislation passed in the State Senate before the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in a case challenging disclosure provisions of the federal McCain-Feingold campaign reform law. AB 63/SB 43 take into account that ruling. CC/WI, the first state reform organization to recognize the critical importance of this reform, proposed a version of this measure back in 1997 -- and has been leading the effort to get it enacted into law ever since.

Last week in a rare special session, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a critical case known as "Citizens United v. F.E.C." which could ultimately determine whether or not corporations and other outside special interest groups engaged in electioneering in Wisconsin and nationwide can be regulated at all: Justices Are Pressed for a Broad Ruling in Campaign Case. A ruling by the Court is expected by the end of the year.

Despite the potential implications of this case, Senator Erpenbach told the CC/WI Board that the State Senate would press ahead for consideration and passage of the issue ad disclosure and regulation legislation this Fall -- before the Supreme Court ruling is handed down -- a position fully supported by CC/WI. Waiting for the Supreme Court decision makes no sense because there is no way of knowing what that decision will be or how it will affect the Wisconsin reform measures.

So from all indications from leading reform legislators, significant and sweeping campaign finance reform could become law before the end of 2009 and in time for the 2010 elections in Wisconsin.

To read CC/WI's testimony on the Impartial Justice Bill and legislation to require the disclosure and regulation of phony issue ads, go here.

Jay Heck, Executive Director
Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI 53703

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