Jay Heck – 608/256-2686
For Release: Tuesday, March 4, 2014
A sudden, surprise attack on the ability of Wisconsin citizens to know who is trying to influence their vote at election time was launched without notice yesterday, when State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) and State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) introduced Senate Bill 654. They also introduced another horrible measure – Senate Bill 655 – that would lift the current limitations on a lobbyist's ability to make campaign contributions and allow them to contribute more frequently.
And they are rushing both of these awful measures to a public hearing in the Capitol on Wednesday with the intention of trying to get them passed and enacted into law during the few remaining days the Wisconsin Legislature is in session this year. They should be opposed and stopped cold. An executive session on the measures could occur as early as this Thursday.
Senate Bill 654 would take Wisconsin in exactly the opposite direction that the rest of the nation is headed in the wake of the 2010 Citizens United vs. F.E.C. decision. It would codify into Wisconsin law "protection" from disclosure of phony issue ads. It does not take a genius to see that all outside groups would head in that direction in order to influence elections and escape disclosure of their donors.
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 the Citizens United decision urged Congress and the States to enact stronger disclosure laws. Senate Bill 654 would cause less disclosure and make it much more difficult to know who is funding elections in Wisconsin.
For years, Wisconsin has needed more disclosure of communications of campaign communications masquerading as "issue advocacy." Outside special interest groups have escaped disclosure by avoiding engaging in what is called express advocacy which has been defined as utilizing "magic words" such as "support" or "defeat" or "vote for" or "vote against" and the like. Instead, they have utilized phony issue ads which are really campaign ads that are trying to influence the outcome of elections, but, because they do not utilize the "magic words," they are not considered express advocacy and therefore not subject to disclosure.
Obviously they should be disclosed, and the Wisconsin Legislature has come close several times to passing effective electioneering disclosure. Senate Bill 654 would take Wisconsin in the opposite direction and enshrine into election law that unless a campaign communication utilized one or more of the "magic words" it cannot be considered express advocacy and is not subject to registration and disclosure.
The result would be more undisclosed campaign communications (masquerading as phony issue advocacy) and much more dark money in Wisconsin.
The other bad measure, Senate Bill 655 would, among other things, allow lobbyists to make campaign contributions with far fewer timing restrictions than they can now under Wisconsin law. Currently, lobbyists can only make campaign contributions after June 1st of an election year in which a candidate is running for election. SB 655 allows them to make campaign contributions more frequently.
Is there a single Wisconsin citizen outside of the Capitol who has ever said we need more campaign contributions from lobbyists in our elections? Does anyone seriously believe we need lobbyists influencing public policy with campaign contributions more than they already do?
With this secretive, sudden maneuver, Senators Lazich and Fitzgerald are hoping not many Wisconsinites will notice what they are trying to ram through Lazich's committee this week. Both of these horrendous measures were contained in Assembly Bill 225 last year and were yanked out when CC/WI and other concerned citizens raised hell about these and other onerous provisions in that legislation. But now they are back.
Please contact your State Senator immediately and tell her or him that you oppose Senate Bill 654 and Senate Bill 655! If you are not sure who your State Senator is, go here.
Jay Heck, Executive Director
Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI 53703
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