Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Fast-Tracked Campaign Finance & Election Package Even Worse Than We Thought

Press Release
June 5, 2013

Jay Heck – 608/256-2686

Fast-Tracked Campaign Finance & Election Package
Is Even Worse Than We Thought

WMC-Inspired Provision Would Eviscerate Almost All Disclosure
of Outside Special Interest Groups

Yesterday in the State Capitol, the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections held its sole public hearing on legislation that first surfaced only last week and was introduced just this past Friday.

Assembly Bill 225 is a big chunk of public policy -- almost all of it bad.

The campaign finance part of the bill ought to be split from the election and voting components of the bill and considered separately -- and only after all of it has been public for a good long while and the Citizens of Wisconsin have had an opportunity to see and understand it. The consequences of enacting this package into law would be severely detrimental for Wisconsinites for years to come. It ought to be stopped and considered carefully in the sunshine. There is certainly plenty of time. The next elections in Wisconsin are not for nearly a year.

Instead, the entire bill is being rushed through the Assembly while state budget consideration is dominating the attention of the media and most Wisconsinites. While the author of the legislation, State Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale) and the Assembly Speaker, Robin Vos (R-Rochester) both said yesterday that they were still seeking "input" on the bill, it is clear that they have the hyper-partisan package that they want and will ram it through the Assembly before the end of June. Vos' appearance at the committee hearing is an indication of the high partisan priority that he places on flooding Wisconsin elections with more special interest money, making that money far less transparent, and in making it more difficult for tens of thousands of Wisconsinites to vote.

There were several hours of testimony -- primarily on election issues and the photo voter I.D. law. But the most alarming testimony of the day came from James Buchen, the long-time government relations director for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state's largest business lobbying organization and a long-time fierce opponent of transparency, spending limits, and reducing special interest money in campaigns and public-policy-making. Buchen clearly has had a huge influence in the writing of the campaign finance component of AB 225. Buchen all but admitted to being the originator of the section of the bill that would "protect" from disclosure the donors to phony issue ads -- which are campaign communications masquerading as issue advocacy. These communications clearly are designed to influence the outcome of state elections, but because they do not use express advocacy -- which are what are known as "magic words" such as "vote for" or "defeat" or "elect" or "support" -- they are not currently subject to disclosure requirements.

Assembly Bill 225 and Buchen would take Wisconsin in exactly the opposite direction that the rest of the nation is headed in the wake of the Citizens United vs. F.E.C. decision. The "Buchen provision" in Assembly Bill 225 would codify into Wisconsin law protection from disclosure of phony issue ads. It does not take a genius to see that that is where all outside groups would head in order to influence elections and escape disclosure.

The end result would be that Wisconsinites will have no idea who is behind almost all of the money from outside special interest groups seeking to influence their vote in elections in Wisconsin. The money could come from anywhere inside or outside of Wisconsin, and Wisconsin voters would not know it's origin.

No other state is headed in this direction.

All other states are headed toward more disclosure of outside money. Eight of Nine U.S. Supreme Court Justices in Citizens United urged Congress and the States to enact stronger disclosure laws. AB 225 would cause less disclosure and make it much more difficult to know who is funding elections in Wisconsin.

There are many other reasons why Assembly Bill 225 should be scrapped, and we have listed other objections to the measure previously. But the secret money "Buchen" provision in this legislation should make all Wisconsinites very afraid. It would codify into Wisconsin law the spending of more secret outside money to influence our state's elections.

You can view CC/WI Director Jay Heck's testimony against this legislation here. You can view the entire public hearing from Wisconsin Eye (including the testimony of James Buchen) here. To read a powerful editorial opposing AB 225, go here.

Stay tuned.


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


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