Thursday, October 30, 2008


Press Release
October 30, 2008


Jay Heck – 608/256-2686

Common Cause (and Common Cause in Wisconsin) is part of a national coalition offering voters a toll free telephone "hotline" to call between now and through Election Day - November 4th.

The toll free number is: 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683).

Voters should be able to receive real time help when calling the hotline and can get simple questions answered such as “where is my polling place” but can also receive legal help when voting rights laws have been violated. A database for all the calls can be accessed at

Wisconsin-specific information is here: http://www.ourvotelive.orgmap.php?id=55/
Try calling the toll free number - it works!


Friday, October 10, 2008

Effort to Force the Disclosure and Regulation of Phony Issue Ads Advances this Week

Press Release
October 10, 2008


Jay Heck – 608/256-2686

As Wisconsin and the nation anguish over the apparent national economic meltdown this week and wonder when it will reach bottom, there was at least a little bit of good news on the political reform front in Wisconsin.

On Monday, the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board sided with Common Cause in Wisconsin and defied threats of litigation made by attorneys opposing political reform and representing wealthy special interest groups by voting 5 to 0 to go ahead and draft an administrative rule that would require organizations that run widely disseminated campaign communications masquerading as issue advocacy, to make public the name of their donors and to have the funds paying for the communications be subject to Wisconsin's campaign finance limits.

"Phony" issue ads, such as those utilized extensively during the last two hugely expensive and nasty state Supreme Court elections in early 2008 (Gableman-Butler) and 2007 (Ziegler-Clifford) by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) and other organizations such as the "Greater Wisconsin Committee" and "All Children Matter," would be regulated and forced to disclose the name of their donors paying for those communications under the rule the GAB is in the process of writing and poised to adopt.

Common Cause in Wisconsin testified before the GAB on Monday and last August 27th as well and strongly urged that the new, independent state watchdog entity adopt such a rule. Voicing strong objection to the rule was Mike Wittenwyler, an attorney representing WMC and many other special interest groups. Wittenwyler and the other opponents of reform and transparency have all tried to make the case that the GAB did not have the authority to promulgate an rule regulating phony issue ads. This is a new strategy that comes in the wake of their previous, failed argument that disclosure of sham issue ads was unconstitutional in and of itself. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2003 and again in 2007 that disclosure of phony issue ads that were "the functional equivalent" of campaign ads was indeed lawful. So the opponents of disclosure attempted to say the GAB can't force disclosure but only the Legislature can. Since any rule promulagated by the GAB is subject to legislative review, their argument is dubious. Legal experts from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York Univerisity, which CC/WI enlisted to submit a constitutional rule for Wisconsin to the GAB, says the GAB absolutely has the power and ability to render a disclosure rule. On Monday, the GAB agreed.

CC/WI has been engaged in this battle for the past 11 years. Most recently we supported Senate Bill 77, introduced by Senators Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) and Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) in 2007, which had impressive bipartisan and bicameral support and it would have closed this single largest, gaping loophole in Wisconsin’s loop-hole ridden campaign finance law. It is a measure that has been in the making for the past decade and it is an absolute no-brainer for Democrats and Republicans alike, to embrace and support. It doesn’t violate the first amendment, it doesn’t stifle free speech, and it doesn’t prevent any group from criticizing the government, as its opponents and critics deceivingly claim. It is constitutional and similar laws at the state and federal level have been upheld by the courts—including the nation’s very highest court.

Senate Bill 77 -- and the type of rule being drafted and considered by the GAB -- would do at the state level what the McCain-Feingold law has accomplished at the federal level which is simply to put teeth back into an existing, century-old law that prohibits unlimited, unregulated and undisclosed corporate soft money to be used – primarily for widely disseminated broadcast ads – to influence the outcome of state elections.

The phony issue ads that now proliferate our statewide and legislative elections have undermined a 1906 Wisconsin law that prohibited the use of corporate treasury money to influence elections and Senate Bill 77 -- and the type of rule being drafted and considered by the GAB -- would extend that prohibition not only to corporations, but also to the use of labor union treasury money and money from the general treasuries of Native-American Tribes and other entities. Because these phony issue ads avoid using a few “magic words” such as “vote for” or “defeat:, or “elect” or “support,” they have escaped regulation and disclosure requirements even as they have had the same effect on elections as communications that use such “magic words” Everyone knows these ads are a charade and it is well past time that they be brought under control in Wisconsin.

Undisclosed, unregulated phony issue ads not only undermine our elections but the money also gravely undermines the public policy-making process that follows elections because the specter of that political money hangs over many of the critical policy decisions made in the Capitol.

Senate Bill 77 -- and the type of rule being drafted and considered by the GAB -- simply stipulates that groups that utilize widely disseminated broadcast communications that depict or mention the name of a candidate within 60 days of that candidate’s primary or general election must use regulated, restricted and disclosed “hard” money to pay for the communications – just as candidates must do at all times. A similar provision in the federal McCain-Feingold law was upheld by the United States Supreme Court , in December of 2003. And similar phony issue ad regulation and disclosure laws have been on the books at the state level for many years, including in Connecticut and even in what we in Wisconsin used to consider be corrupt and lawless Illinois! If Illinois can require disclose and regulation of its political ads then surely Wisconsin can do as much.

More than ten years ago, Common Cause in Wisconsin first proposed a measure very similar to Senate Bill 77 -- and the type of rule being drafted and considered by the GAB -- for adoption by the State Elections Board in the wake of the first extensive use of phony issue ads by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce during the 1996 state legislative elections. But the State Elections Board was too partisan and too divided to do the right thing and could not agree on an administrative rule.

Then, in 2000, Common Cause in Wisconsin, working with Senator Judy Robson (D-Beloit) and Representative Steve Freese (R-Dodgeville), put forward another measure very similar to Senate Bill 77. The measure received strong bipartisan support in passing the Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules and on January 30, 2001, Senate Bill 2 passed overwhelmingly with a strong bipartisan vote of 23 to 10 in the State Senate. The following month it came within a single vote of passing in the State Assembly.

Now, seven years after that near victory for this measure, there have been millions of dollars more expended for undisclosed, unregulated phony issue ads. In 2001, phony issue ads were considered to be primarily a tool utilized to support of Republican candidates and against Democrats. Today, the are a plague on both of your parties with groups like the Greater Wisconsin Committee and the Native-Americans just as likely to pour hundreds of thousands of dollars of undisclosed, unregulated money into ads attacking Republicans as Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce is to savage Democrats.

Why should outside special interest groups be permitted to continue to use undisclosed and unregulated money for campaign ads when candidates for state office in Wisconsin must utilize only disclosed and regulated money? That’s like preparing to run a race with your feet tied together. This is a simple matter of fairness for candidates running for legislative and statewide office. And it’s a simple matter of fairness for the citizens of Wisconsin to be able to know who is paying for the communications they are forced to endure at election time.

Consideration, passage and enactment into law of Senate Bill 77 -- or the type of rule being drafted and considered by the GAB -- is critical to the process of beginning to restore citizen trust and confidence in Wisconsin’s elections, in our public policy-making process and in state government.

The GAB meets on November 11th to vote to promulgate the new rule or not. May they have the courage and independence to do so.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Special Session on CFR is Only Remaining Legislative Business - Must Act Now!

Press Release
Friday, May 30, 2008
By Jay Heck

The Wisconsin Legislature, in a rare flurry of activity last week, completed action on the Special Session on Budget Repair and on the Special Session on the Great Lakes Compact.

The "regular" session of the 2007-2008 Wisconsin Legislature adjourned for the year in early March.

That means there is now only one unfinished piece of business still pending for the Wisconsin Legislature--however much they wish it would just go away--The Special Session on Campaign Finance Reform, called by Governor Jim Doyle last November 30th at CC/WI's insistence. It is still very much alive, even if nothing has happened thus far.
But now, with all other legislative business out of the way, (apart from some possible attemtps to override some of Governor Doyle's budget repair vetoes) there is no excuse whatsoever to any longer put off the consideration of Special Session SENATE BILL 1 which is strongly supported by CC/WI. This sweeping reform measure would force special interest groups running the nasty phony issue ads that dominated the recent election for State Supreme Court, to disclose the names of the donors to those groups. Currently they do not have to. It would also provide full, 100% public financing to candidates for the State Supreme Court who agree to limit their campaign spending to $400,000 and additional funds if the complying candidate is the target of an outside special interest group communication (or his or her opponent is the beneficiary of same). It would also clean up legislative and other statewide elections, ban campaign fundraising during the state budget process, eliminate the legislative leadership special interest slush funds known as legislative campaign committees, restrict out of state money from pouring into Wisconsin and much, much more.

With another State Supreme Court election early next year, the Legislature can no longer stall. They must act now in order for their to be any possibility that reforms will be in place for the upcoming State Supreme Court election in which the Chief Justice, Shirley Abrahamson, will stand for re-election in what is expected to be the most costly and nasty election ever in Wisconsin, without reform in place prior to the April, 2009 election.

CC/WI has learned that there are at least some discussions occuring in the State Senate and at a CC/WI forum held at UW-Madison late last month, the Legislature's leading campaign finance reform advocates -- Senators Michael Ellis (R-Neenah) and Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) both called for immediate action on the Special Session legislation put forward by the Governor.

Unfortunately, the two individuals in the position to make the Special Session happen -- Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch (R-West Salem) and State Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker (D-Weston) have been silent on the subject thus far. CC/WI will invite both (or their designees) to attend a CC/WI State Governing Board Meeting in the Capitol in Madison on Thursday, June 5th to shed some light on their plans for campaign finance reform in 2008. We also will invite the Governor (or his designes) to attend to express his "disappointment" about the lack of action thus far on his Special Session call.

In the meantime, you can call/contact Speaker Huebsch and Senate Majority Leader Decker and ask when they will commence action on the Special Session on Campaign Finance Reform.

Rep. Mike Huebsch: 608/266-3387, toll-free: 888/534-0094, e-mail: Rep.Huebsch@legis.wisconsin.govThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Sen. Russ Decker: 608/266-2502, toll-free: 877-496-0472, e-mail: Sen.Decker@legis.wisconsin.govThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

If you get an answer from either, please let us know.............

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Nonstop Town Meeting on Reform — with Common Cause In Wisconsin

Blog Post
Saturday, May 10, 2008

By Bill Kraus

How do you ruin a perfectly good Bar Association convention? Invite Bob Williams and me to talk about the sad state of judicial politics and what can and can’t be done about fixing them.

We told them that nobody likes what Supreme Court campaigns have become.

We also told them that since nobody who dislikes what they have become likes any proposal to fix them–except perhaps their own–better than the current mess, the current mess is going to survive.

We told them that the forces of the status quo, which are always a three-touchdown favorite, are powerful and set in concrete and are major reasons no change is in the offing.

The U.S. Supreme Court, for example, would have to turn 180 degrees from its recent past to even take a look at the collateral damage that its decisions have caused.

The incumbents, even though they are wearing out their index fingers dialing for dollars, are afraid to change for fear they might become less invincible than they are.

The interest groups that are now the major players in the money race and who are getting what they seem to want—a biased instead of a disinterested judiciary—are not interested in giving up what they have spent a lot of good money to get.

The hired guns who are making the tasteless, misleading attack television ads and the television stations that are selling the time to run them are getting rich. They are going to give this up? Get real.

The only hint of good regulatory news we were able to dig up was the prospect of getting some transparency into the funding sources of the groups who are hijacking the campaigns. We know who is coughing up the dough for the manufacturers and the teachers generally if not specifically. But all we know about the Club for Growth, the Greater Wisconsin Committee, One Wisconsin, and the Coalition for Families is that their names are as unrevealing as are the names of the people who are sending them the money they are able to scarf up to denigrate the candidates they dislike.

The special session, we told them, is still alive. The disclosure bill which the senate passed unanimously ended up in a trash can in the Speaker’s office on its way to the floor of the Assembly despite the fact that this has always been the Republican preference over regulation and spending limits and the fact that the speaker is on the record in favor of the idea.


But the special session is still alive and transparency is part of the big reform bill that is gasping for breath and which could be passed [ha!] or modified down to a skeletal disclosure version..if someone, like all of the lawyers in the audience would call their Assembly Reps and raised something approaching hell.

Easy but perhaps a forlorn hope. We’ll see.

What we really asked them to do is a lot harder. We told them to get back into politics as candidates, as campaigners, as contributors, as citizens. They could start, we suggested, with their mouths, because judicial campaigns are still places where word of mouth counts.

Bob Williams closed this plea with two questions for all the 15,000 members of the Wisconsin bar who live in Wisconsin by asking:

If not now, when?

If not you, who?

Just what they wanted to hear. Or not.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Common Cause
in Wisconsin
Legislative Testimony

Special Session Campaign Finance Reform Committee
February 12, 2008

Chairman Kreitlow and Members of the Committee:

My name is Jay Heck and I am the executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, the state’s largest, non-partisan, non-profit reform advocacy organization in the state with approximately 3,000 members and another 2,000 non-member network allies.

We commend you for holding this hearing today on December 2007 Special Session Senate Bill 1 and on Senate Bill 12 – the sweeping, comprehensive campaign finance reform measure better known as the Ellis-Erpenbach bill, now in its fifth incarnation and which Common Cause in Wisconsin first supported back in 1999 when we first began working first with Senator Ellis and later with Senator Erpenbach to shape this legislation. Because Senate Bill 12 is largely contained in December 2007 Special Session Senate Bill 1, together with full public funding for State Supreme Court candidates who agree to limit campaign spending to $400,000 (Senate Bill 171) as well as adjustments to disclosure requirements for widely disseminated campaign communications masquerading as issue advocacy, to reflect the U.S Supreme Court decision of last June affecting the federal McCain-Feingold law (Senate Bill 77), I will limit my testimony today to speaking in favor of December 2007 Special Session Senate Bill 1. We again commend Governor Jim Doyle for calling the Special Session last November 30th and look forward to working with this committee and with the State Senate and Assembly to pass this much needed landmark legislation and having it enacted into law—the first substantive reform to Wisconsin’s campaign finance reform in three decades.

There are countless reasons why you need to pass this legislation. But with apologies to Late Night host David Letterman, here are Common Cause in Wisconsin’s Top Ten Reasons for Passing December 2007 Special Session Senate Bill 1, although not necessarily in order of importance – because all of them are important.

- This landmark legislation: increases the current and inadequate $1 check off for public financing on the state income tax form to $5 with a partisan option to make checking off the money more attractive. (It would not increase tax liability or decrease the refund by $5) and it creates an additional source of public funding for candidates through the creation of a Public Integrity Endowment (PIE) to be set up and administered through the Government Accountability Board. Individuals, unions, corporations, foundations and anyone else interested in cleaning up state government could contribute to the PIE and be eligible for a 100 percent tax credit. (There is currently no additional source of public funding--only the $1 checks off).

- Provides candidates with full funding for public grants equal to 35% of revised spending limits if they agree to abide by the revised spending limits ($4 Million – Governor; $700,000 – Attorney General; $150,000 – State Senate; $75,000 – State Assembly) and provides complying candidates with additional public funding equal to the amount over the spending limit that their non-complying opponent spends--up to three times the spending limit. (There is currently no such provision in place).

#8 - Provides candidates who are the targets of outside spending by independent expenditure groups or those who run so-called "issue ads" (that depict a candidate 60 days or less before the general election or 30 days or less before the primary) with public funding matches – of to three times the spending limit. (There is currently no such provision in place).

#7 - Requires the disclosure by sham issue ad groups of how much they are spending and who the donors to the organization are. (Currently no disclosure whatsoever is required of these groups).

#6 - Prohibits campaign fund-raising by legislators and statewide elected officials from the time after the election when the governor or governor-elect is preparing the biennial state budget to be introduced until it is enacted into law. (Currently fund raising is rampant during the budget period). This prohibition would apply to declared candidates for legislative and statewide office as well.

#5 - Abolishes legislative campaign committees -- which legislative leaders have utilized to decrease the independence of legislators and which have created, at the very least, the appearance of corruption through the solicitation for campaign contributions in return for the consideration of pending legislation. (Currently, LCCs collect hundreds of thousands of dollars of special interest money).

- Would re-establish the Wisconsin Supreme Court as the citadel of integrity and impartial justice that it once was by imposing realistic voluntary spending limits on campaigns in return for 100 percent publicly-financed grants freeing justices from damaging conflicts of interest with campaign contributors or outside special interest groups who currently seek to influence the outcome of current supreme court elections.

#3 - Complies with the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision involving Wisconsin Right to Life’s challenge to the federal McCain-Feingold law by requiring that communications that are clearly identifiable as attempting to influence the outcome of an election be required to disclose the names of the donors paying for those communications but not require that the funds utilized to pay for the so-called issue ads come from regulated or restricted sources as earlier versions of this legislation and the McCain-Feingold law required prior to the U.S. Supreme Court decision last June. This provision is now in line with regulations issued by the Federal Elections Commission this past December on this matter and we are fully confident that it would withstand any legal scrutiny and court challenge.

- This measure would restore Wisconsin to its rightful place as a national leader in clean, honest and accountable state government in the nation, restore citizen confidence – now at an historic all-time low – in our state elections and in our compromised and corrupted public policy-making process, and finally, help erase the stain of shame and infamy that has cast a dark shadow over Wisconsin since the eruption of our worst political scandal since the 1800’s – the Legislative Caucus Scandal back in 2001.

#1 - Finally, enactment into law of this sweeping reform measure would catapult Wisconsin way ahead of Minnesota, which currently has a campaign finance system in place that is light years ahead of, and better than ours in terms of having issue – driven elections with spending limits and which enjoys very high confidence among its citizens and prevents campaign finance corruption. If Wisconsin can’t do better than Minnesota, then we really need serious therapy because none of us can bear to continue to live with that shame!

Thank you.


Friday, February 1, 2008

Our Accomplishments

Common Cause in Wisconsin

  • Common Cause in Wisconsin played a leading role in a statewide effort to secure passage and enactment into law of the "Impartial Justice" measure, legislation that will provide 100 percent public financing to candidates for the Wisconsin Supreme Court who qualify for the public funding and who agree to abide by spending limits of $100,000 in the primary election and $300,000 in the general election. Complying candidates will also be eligible to receive additional matching funds if their opponent decides not to abide by the limits and accept the public financing and if outside groups run independent expenditures against them. The grants will be funded by a new $3 check-off on the state income tax form -- of which $2 will be for state supreme court elections. If this vehicle does not generate sufficient revenue to fully fund candidate and matching grants, sum sufficient funding from the general treasury will be appropriated to fully fund all grants.
    Wisconsin now joins New Mexico and North Carolina as the only states in the nation to provide full public financing in state supreme court elections. Both chambers of the Wisconsin Legislature passed the Impartial Justice legislation on November 5. 2009. Governor Jim Doyle signed it into law on December 1, 2009. CC/WI's leadership role in this reform effort was the subject of this editorial: Reformers win a fight to clean up court races.
  • In June, 2009, Common Cause/Wisconsin single-handedly uncovered and then forced to be removed from the biennial state budget bill, an amendment proposed by the State Senate Majority Leader that would have required the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (G.A.B.) to get legislative approval for any funding to investigate possible corruption and/or other wrongdoing in state government. Enactment of the amendment would have completely undermined the independence and ability of the G.A.B. to be able to investigate corruption -- free from interference from, or control by the Legislature. This was a key component in the establishment of the independent, effective G.A.B. in 2007 (after a four year effort led by CC/Wisconsin) following the biggest political scandal in Wisconsin's history in 2002.
  • With State Senator Michael Ellis, Common Cause in Wisconsin devised the legislation and led the successful four-year fight to enact into law the most sweeping political reform in Wisconsin in thirty years – the establishment of a new state Government Accountability Board (GAB) to replace the ineffective State Elections and Ethics Boards, which had ceased being effective enforcers of state campaign finance and ethics laws. The new law, which passed the Legislature and was signed into law on February 2, 2007, creates a much strong single board with enhanced power to investigate and prosecute corruption and wrongdoing in state government. The new GAB also is funded independently from the Legislature and the members of the GAB--retired appellate judges--must be non-partisan and are not selected by political party or legislative leaders as were members of the former State Elections Board.
  • First proposed and led the effort to eliminate the four partisan legislative caucus staffs – about sixty legislative employees who had been increasingly utilized over the years by the majority and minority leaders in both legislative chambers to do political and campaign work on state time with state resources. CC/WI first proposed their elimination in 1997 and then was the only reform organization that actively worked for their elimination—which occurred in the Assembly in October, 2001 and which was completed in the State Senate in January, 2003.The savings to Wisconsin taxpayers has been about $4 million annually.
  • After suing the state legislative leadership in 2001, CC/WI won a settlement brokered by the state Attorney General that stipulated that any legislator or legislative staff member convicted of a felony or misdemeanor crime for misconduct in office or on the job, must reimburse taxpayers for any and all legal fees paid for by the state while they were under investigation. Three convicted ex-legislators with taxpayer-paid legal fees totaling more than $200,000 have already, or will have to reimburse the state treasury.
  • Common Cause in Wisconsin led the effort in the media to uncover wrongdoing and felony misconduct in the State Capitol on the part of legislative leaders and staff in 2001-2002 culminating in the criminal charging of the Democratic Senate Chair of the Joint Finance Committee, the Democratic State Senate Majority Leader, the Republican Speaker of the Assembly and the Republican Assembly Majority and Assistant Majority Leaders in 2002 – for felony misconduct and other crimes in office. CC/WI was the leading media “go to” organization throughout what was known as the Legislative Caucus Scandal – the most serious political scandal in the history of Wisconsin State Government. In October of 2001, CC/WI uncovered and led the storm of protest against a secret deal concocted by the legislative leadership with the State Elections and Ethics Boards to try to cover up the investigation of wrongdoing in the Summer of 2001.
  • Led the statewide legislative effort to pass and enact into law a measure requiring that every voting machine in Wisconsin provide a verified paper ballot in order to ensure that every vote is counted accurately and to avoid the controversy that has occurred in other states over verifying certain votes cast. The measure was passed in the Legislature in late 2005 and signed into law in early 2006.
  • Led the 1998 bipartisan effort to pass and enact into law a measure requiring that lobbyists report on-line, activity on legislation within 14 days of the lobbying activity. Previously, lobbyists had up to six months to report lobbying activity. This lobbying on-line reporting legislation made Wisconsin the state with the earliest reporting requirement in terms of making known to the public lobbying activity of any state in the nation.
  • Devised with State Senator Michael Ellis, the comprehensive campaign finance reform legislation that has gained the widest bipartisan support as well as that of all the leading Wisconsin newspaper editorial writers, every year since it was first introduced in 1999. Legislators and Wisconsin newspapers consider Common Cause in Wisconsin to be the most respected and effective reform advocacy organization in the state.