Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lack of Disclosure of Most Outside Special Interest Group Spending Leaves Voters in the Dark

Common Cause in Wisconsin Reform Update - October 28, 2010
  1. Undisclosed Attack Ads Flood Wisconsin Airwaves
  2. Legislators and Citizens Discuss Reform at Forum in Appleton
  3. Minnesota Does Disclosure Right

1. "Thanks" to an irresponsible and reckless decision made by a narrow majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court in August, Wisconsin citizens will never know who is funding the millions of dollars worth of political attack ads from outside special interest groups that are airing almost every minute of the day and night attempting to influence the outcome of state elections.

On August 13th, a bitterly divided Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a 4 (Gableman, Prosser, Rogensack and Ziegler) to 3 (Abrahamson, Bradley and Crooks) decision to block from continuing in effect, a disclosure rule that would require outside organizations trying to influence the outcome of elections in Wisconsin -- through campaign communications masquerading as issue advocacy -- to disclose their donors and register with the state: Court halts rule on political ads. The rule, which was promulgated by the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) -- and not opposed by the Wisconsin Legislature -- took effect on August 1st. But the narrow majority on the court -- in an act of incredible and hypocritical judicial aggressiveness -- intervened at the behest of several outside special interest groups seeking to preserve the corrupt status quo - preventing disclosure of these phony issue ads.

Since the Court's injunction in mid-August, the citizens of Wisconsin have been robbed of needed transparency in our elections. CC/WI strongly supported the GAB rule and has been pushing for transparency and disclosure of the donors of phony issue ads since we first proposed a similar rule and legislation back in 1997.

The State Supremes have not acted in either a timely or expeditious manner in deciding this issue. Two and a half months after suspending the GAB disclosure rule, there is still no decision from the Court. They should never have intervened in the first place. The matter had already been decided by the nation's highest court last January. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that more robust disclosure can and should be required of organizations that seek to influence the outcome of an election -- as the phony issue ads run in Wisconsin clearly do.

As a result, Wisconsin has been ground zero in the nation in the number of undisclosed communications made by outside groups in Gubernatorial elections. Wisconsin voters will also have no idea who the donors are behind the hundreds of thousands of dollars of communications being spent on statewide and legislative elections.

A Milwaukee television news report earlier this week provides a clear and concise summary of this entire situation and what is at stake.

Wisconsin's largest newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorialized on the secrecy problem on Tuesday.

And if Wisconsin is "ground zero" for undisclosed communications by outside special interest groups, then the Fox Valley is ground zero in Wisconsin.

This past Monday evening, Common Cause in Wisconsin hosted another in our series of "reform forums" around Wisconsin to talk to and hear from citizens all over the state about the need for political reform. More than 60 citizens gathered in Appleton at Lawrence University to hear opening remarks from Wisconsin State Representatives Dean Kaufert (R-Neenah) and Penny Bernard Schaber (D-Appleton), Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, and Jay Heck, CC/WI's excutive director.

The need for disclosure of outside special interest group campaign communications, public financing, redistricting reform, state budget reform and the need to ratchet down the unprecedented partisan rancor in the state were all discussed. Citizens asked many excellent questions and offered insightful opinions. You can see the Wisconsin Eye coverage of the forum here.

3. The Green Bay Packers finally prevailed over the Minnesota Vikings and Brett Farvre last Sunday, to the delight of most Wisconsinites. But when it comes to requiring the disclosure of the donors to outside special interest groups making campaign communications, Minnesota is way ahead of Wisconsin. When the U.S. Supreme Court unleashed the flood of corporate and union treasury money to drown out the voices of citizens in the Citizens United decision last January, the Minnesota Legislature acted swiftly to require disclosure of those entities donating to "front" groups running campaign communications. In Wisconsin, the Legislature adjourned in April without reaching agreement on disclosure legislation.

The Minnesota Legislature -- unlike the Vikings and Favre -- got the job done and now have the disclosure law Wisconsin needs.

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

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