Monday, June 18, 2012

Political Reform After the Recall Elections -- This Summer!

Press Release
June 18, 2011

Jay Heck – 608/256-2686


Last week was a relatively and mercifully quiet one in the State Capitol after the tumult of the unprecedented and historic June 5th Recall elections that gave Governor Scott Walker another two and a half years as Governor, and the Democrats an apparent one-seat majority in the Wisconsin State Senate.

After almost incomprehensibly staggering sums of money were spent -- primarily by Walker and outside groups supporting him -- or against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (and much of it undisclosed) and the fact that well over 60 percent of Walker's own campaign cash came from outside of Wisconsin, there was no talk about the need for any campaign finance reform or other political reform by Walker or by heir apparent to be the next Wisconsin Assembly Speaker, Rep. Robin Vos (R-Burlington) other than making recall elections more difficult to initiate and undertake. For more on this, read here and here.

Such reform might be worth considering if it is coupled with the elimination of the provision added to the law in 1987 concerning recalls at the behest of then-State Senator Gary George (D-Milwaukee) to lift contribution limits for state office holders facing recall elections. George, who was later convicted in 2004 of receiving illegal monetary kickbacks and served prison time, was facing a recall in 1987 and wanted to be able to collect additional campaign money beyond the limits in place to pay for expenses in that expected recall election, which ultimately did not occur. So George had a provision inserted in the state budget to lift the limits. It was this same provision that allowed Scott Walker to collect huge contributions far beyond the $10,000 contribution limit for statewide candidates in Wisconsin. Walker received $510,000 from billionaire Diane Hendricks of ABC Building Supply in Beloit, $250,000 from Las Vegas gambling magnate and Republican financier Sheldon Adelson and much more on his way to raising an astronomical $35 million or more for the recall election.

If Governor Walker and Rep. Vos want to try to act sooner, rather than later, to "reform" the recall law through constitutional amendment so that a recall could occur only if an elected official is engaged in malfeasance in office and, at the same time, eliminate the "George provision" in the law that lifts contribution limits for office holders facing a recall election, then they should also support and push for two other basic common sense political reforms that have bipartisan support and would not cost Wisconsin taxpayers a dime (and indeed, would save millions of taxpayer dollars) to enact into law:

Disclosure: For years, and most dramatically in 2011 and this year, outside special interest groups have been spending millions of dollars to influence the outcome of Wisconsin elections and the voters have no idea who the donors are behind the mostly negative attack ads. Wisconsin voters deserve to know who the donors to these outside groups are -- and it could be accomplished easily with the right leadership and political will to make it happen. Minnesota has a disclosure law. Even Illinois does. But not Wisconsin. Yet. Let's have disclosure in place for the upcoming August primary and November general elections! The legislation is already written and ready to go.

In February, Wisconsin State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) introduced long-anticipated electioneering disclosure legislation that had 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 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. Others would support this legislation too. It is long overdue. Senate Bill 446 can be introduced as part of Special or Extraordinary Session Bill 1.

Redistricting Reform: Last July, the Wisconsin Legislature passed and Scott Walker signed into law the most partisan, secretive redistricting plan in Wisconsin's history. The majority Republicans in the State Senate and Assembly concocted this monstrosity entirely in secret, utilizing hundreds of thousands of dollars of scarce taxpayer money to pay partisan lawyers. It was introduced on a Friday and given a single public hearing the following Tuesday. There was no alternative redistricting map that had any legislative, editorial or widespread citizen support and no other process to undertake redistricting was considered.

It didn't have to be that way and should not be that way the next time redistricting is undertaken in 2021-22. But to ensure it doesn't happen then, the Legislature and Governor need to act now. It becomes much more difficult to enact non-partisan redistricting with each passing month towards the next Census. Do it now -- right after the June 5th recall -- so that Wisconsin citizens can have confidence that the Legislature and Governor are working toward addressing the best interests of citizens instead of for their own, narrow, partisan, selfish self-interest.

Last year CC/WI worked with Rep. Brett Hulsey (D-Madison) and a number of other legislators to construct an alternative, non-partisan redistricting process plan -- Assembly Bill 198 -- that would have a neutral entity like the Legislative Reference Bureau and/or the Government Accountability Board draw the district lines without partisan political considerations but rather according to community interests. The Legislature would simply be able to vote the plan up or down. Such a process has been the law in Iowa since 1980 and has worked incredibly well. Legislative and Congressional elections are far more competitive there and the districts "make sense" and are contiguous and compact -- not full of holes or lizard-shaped. And, it costs next to nothing to accomplish in Iowa and they did it all -- out in the open -- in just a few weeks.

This is the vehicle we need in Wisconsin to reform our disgraceful redistricting process.


So there it is. A package of three reforms that Governor Walker, the Democratically-controlled State Senate and the Republican-controlled State Assembly could embrace and pass this Summer. Recall, Disclosure and Redistricting Reform. Pass all three. Show the citizens of Wisconsin that there can be bipartisan support for political reform that would be in the best interests of citizens, instead of politicians for a change.

What do you think?


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

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