Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Governor Doyle Should Call Legislature into Special Session Now to Pass Electioneering Disclosure Legislation

Press Release
August 5, 2010


Jay Heck – 608/256-2686



On Monday, a conservative and a liberal organization joined forces and resources to file a lawsuit seeking to block a state administrative rule requiring such organizations to disclose the source of their funding if they engage in advocacy for or against a state candidate up for election -- during the period immediately proceeding the election. The administrative rule, promulgated by the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) went into effect on August 1st after no one in the Wisconsin Legislature sought to block it. The lawsuit (See the brief here) brought by the conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth and the liberal One Wisconsin Now organizations, was not unexpected and it is not "frivolous and baseless" as some have characterized it to be. It is serious and should be addressed in a serious way. Yes, the suit should be dismissed by the federal court because it is unconstitutional. But the Wisconsin Legislature should pass and enact into law disclosure legislation to further solidify and safeguard electioneering disclosure from future legal assault by anti-reform guardians of the corrupt status quo.

Disclosure of donors that fund widely disseminated electioneering communications in the period immediately prior to an election is a reform measure Common Cause in Wisconsin first proposed in 1997 - the first reform organization to do so - and we have been fighting to enact into law this needed disclosure ever since. Earlier this year, the United States Supreme Court reversed more than 100 years of precedent and settled law when it narrowly (5 to 4) ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that corporations and unions can now use their general treasury funds to spend unlimited funds for independent expenditures to influence the outcome of a federal (and by extension--state and/or local) election. But that same Court, in that same decision, voted 8 to 1 to allow for even more robust disclosure of such expenditures. Only Justice Clarence Thomas opposed the enhanced disclosure that the other eight justices supported.

The lawsuit against the Wisconsin GAB is essentially the Thomas argument against the enhanced disclosure that the GAB rule imposes and it ought to be dismissed as unconstitutional. The other basis for the Wisconsin Club for Growth/One Wisconsin Now lawsuit is that the GAB does not have the authority to impose such a rule and that only the Legislature can impose such sweeping disclosure requirements. That argument, which the Madison attorney for the plaintiffs, Mike Wittenwyler, has been asserting for years, is also flawed. The Legislature, by not blocking or revising the administrative rule promulgated by the GAB, gave de facto approval to the rule. That is how the administrative process works.

But there is a simple and straightforward way to erase any doubt about whether or not the Wisconsin Legislature supports disclosure of the campaign communications masquerading as issue advocacy that have been a blight on Wisconsin politics since the mid 1990's. Governor Jim Doyle can and should call the Wisconsin Legislature into Special Session to pass a revised version of Senate Bill 43, bipartisan campaign finance reform legislation requiring disclosure of the donors and regulation of the money utilized by outside special interest groups and individuals that run widely-disseminated campaign communications masquerading as issue advocacy during the period of 60 days or less prior to an election. The State Senate overwhelmingly passed the original Senate Bill 43 on January 19th by a bipartisan 26 to 7 margin. The Assembly needed to modify the measure somewhat in the wake of the January 21st United States Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. But it never got done. The revised disclosure measure was never brought back to the State Senate or considered by the Assembly before it adjourned in April because the legislative leadership declined to do so. The votes were most certainly there to pass it in both the State Senate and the Assembly but it was never scheduled. And so legislation requiring the disclosure of phony issue ads didn't get considered or passed.

Governor Jim Doyle, who has been a consistent vocal supporter of requiring the disclosure of phony issue ads, should call the Legislature back into Special Session to finish the job and pass a modified version of Senate Bill 43. Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Waunakee), a long-time leader on this matter, has draft legislation ready to be considered. It could be accomplished by both legislative chambers in less than an hour. Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan (D-Janesville) and State Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker (D-Schofield) also have it within their power to call the Legislature into Extraordinary Session to pass a modified version of Senate Bill 43.

But Governor Doyle ought to take the lead and just do this.

CC/WI has repeatedly called for passage of a revised version of Senate Bill 43 and then a Special or Extraordinary Session to do it after the Legislature adjourned for the year. We did so in March, then again in April, then again in May, and most recently, in June.

We do so again now. And the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this week in an editorial called for the Wisconsin Legislature to act as well.

Since it is unlikely that Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan and State Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker will call the Legislature back into Extraordinary Session to pass revised Senate Bill 43 as the campaign season and battle for control of the Legislature begins to heat up, it is really up to Governor Doyle, who is not running for re-election, to call the Legislature back into Special Session to do this. He should do it today or tomorrow and the Legislature could come back Tuesday of next week and pass it so it will be in place for the upcoming November elections. The Governor would not only be greatly improving his reform legacy as he leaves public office -- but more importantly -- he would ensure that Wisconsinites will know who is trying to influence their important voting decisions in the upcoming critical elections. It is our constitutional right to know who is behind the money in Wisconsin elections -- now and always. That right certainly supersedes the secrecy that outside groups jealously, selfishly and wrongheadedly seek to preserve.

Please call (608-266-1212) or E-mail ( Governor Doyle and insist that he call the Wisconsin Legislature into Special Session now to pass electioneering disclosure legislation. We can and must get this done!


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

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