Common Cause in Wisconsin Reform Update - February 14, 2012
- Bipartisan Election Disclosure Legislation Introduced
- Secret Oaths of Secrecy Make Redistricting Reform Even More Urgent Now
- Former Milwaukee County D.A. & CC/WI State Governing Board Member E. Mike McCann on the John Doe Investigation Uncovering Unlawful Activity during Scott Walker's Milwaukee County Executive Tenure
Happy Valentine's Day!
1. Here is some heartening good news that all (well, almost all) Wisconsinites should love !
Last week, Wisconsin State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Waunakee) introduced long-anticipated electioneering disclosure legislation that has bipartisan support! Senate Bill 446 would require outside groups who engage in sending widely-disseminated communications (primarily broadcast ads and mass mailings) that are really campaign communications masquerading as issue advocacy during the period 60 days or less prior to an election (primary or general) to disclose their donors. Currently in Wisconsin, outside special interest groups escape state disclosure, reporting and registration requirements by avoiding the use of the "magic words" such as "vote for," "defeat," "support," and the like. Obviously there are many other ways to engage in electioneering without using those express terms. The donors behind these phony issue ads -- which have escaped basic disclosure for years -- would finally be revealed to the public if SB 446 were enacted into law.
The narrowly decided (5 to 4) U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United vs. F.E.C. decision two years ago opened up the floodgates for unlimited corporate, union and individual money to be used by supposedly "independent" expenditure groups (or individuals) to influence the outcome of federal and Wisconsin elections. But that same Court opined 8 to 1 that Congress and the states ought to strongly consider passing disclosure legislation or administrative rules so that voters would have some idea about who is behind the torrent of special interest campaign cash about to be dumped on them.
CC/WI has worked closely with Senator Erpenbach -- with legal advice from the Brennan Center for Justice of New York University and from national Common Cause -- in fine tuning Senate Bill 446 so that it will be effective and constitutional. In addition to Jon Erpenbach, the other State Senate co-sponsors at introduction are: Michael Ellis of Neenah, Tim Cullen of Janesville, Dave Hansen of Green Bay, Jim Holperin of Conover, Julie Lassa of Stevens Point, Bob Wirch of Pleasant Prairie, Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls, Fred Risser of Madison, and Tim Carpenter and Chris Larson, both of Milwaukee. SB 446 was also co-sponsored by Representatives Penny Bernard Schaber of Appleton, Sondy Pope-Roberts of Middleton, Kelda Roys of Madison, Fred Clark of Baraboo, Bob Turner of Racine, Sandy Pasch of Whitefish Bay, Terese Berceau of Madison and Gary Hebl of Sun Prairie.
The Republican co-sponsors are Senators Ellis and Harsdorf. The other co-sponsors are Democrats. Please contact both your State Senator and your State Representative and urge them to co-sponsor and support Senate Bill 446! If you are not sure who your state legislators are, go here.
The fact that Senate Bill 446 has bipartisan support ought to doom any effort to pass anti-disclosure legislation such as Assembly Bill 196 and Senate Bill 139 that would prohibit the independent Government Accountability Board from even being able to promulgate an electioneering disclosure rule -- which is one of this agency's primary duties to the people of this state. CC/WI provided lead testimony against this abominable measure that you can find out more about here, here, here and here.
2. Last week there was incredible and almost unfathomable bombshell news that the majority Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature signed secret oaths of confidentiality last year not to talk about the new districts being drawn by lawyers of a big Madison law firm with taxpayer dollars, together with GOP legislative staff members. The 2011 redistricting process was the most partisan, secretive and convoluted in the last 50 years and it screams for reform.
These latest revelations of secrecy in which Republican legislators were urged to ignore public input (which they did) point to the need to ditch the current, disgraceful and discredited process. Assembly Bill 198 would remove the redistricting process from the partisan legislative leaders and their minions (and from the high-priced lawyers operating in secret) and would instead direct the non-partisan Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau and/or the independent Government Accountability Board to draw state legislative and congressional district boundaries every ten years. The result would be a redistricting process that takes place out in the open, at a fraction of the cost, and competitive districts that make sense and provide choice to voters.
Today -- Valentine's Day -- CC/WI will participate in a press conference in the Assembly Parlor of the State Capitol at 11 AM with other reform advocates and some pro-redistricting reform legislators to talk about these latest developments.
3. Just over two weeks ago, criminal charges were lodged against two individuals who worked in the office of then-Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker for engaging in illegal campaign fundraising activities (for Walker's 2010 campaign for Governor). The Deputy Chief of Staff to Walker was charged with several felony counts and another staff member was charged with a misdemeanor in return for her continued cooperation in the "John Doe" secret investigation being conducted by the office of Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm. Chisholm's predecessor in that position for more than 35 years was E. Michael McCann, who has been a member of the Common Cause in Wisconsin State Governing Board for six years. McCann prosecuted former State Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala (D-Madison) for felony misconduct in public office ten years ago in circumstances eerily similar to the allegations against the Walker staffers. Mike McCann appeared last Friday on Wisconsin Public Television's public affairs program Here and Now to explain the John Doe process and what may happen next in the investigation.
Two weeks ago, when the charges were made, CC/WI Director Jay Heck provided extensive comment on this seemingly ongoing scandal here, here, here, here and here.
Jay Heck, Executive Director
Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI 53703
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