Monday, November 22, 2010

Wisconsin Legislature Should Pass Disclosure Legislation When it Comes Back in December to Ratify Public Employee Contracts

Press Release
November 22, 2010

Jay Heck – 608/256-2686


Disclosure Law Needed Now Before State Supreme Court Election Heats Up
Early in 2011

Last week, State Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker and Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan said they would call the Wisconsin Legislature back into session in December to vote to finalize contracts for thousands of state employees before the Republicans take over in January.  They should also complete some critical unfinished business dating back from last April when they adjourned the 2009-2010 Wisconsin Legislature without passing legislation to require the disclosure of the donors of those millions of dollars of campaign ads masquerading as issue advocacy.

Millions of dollars of ads -- most of them negative -- were run by outside special interest groups during state elections in Wisconsin for Governor and for the State Senate and Assembly during the campaign season that ended on November 2nd. Documentation of more than $10 million spent by special interest groups during 2010 making disclosed expenditures were released Monday by the Government Accountability Board but the G.A.B. was not able to report millions of dollars of undisclosed expenditures that were made to influence the voters of Wisconsin because of the failure of the Wisconsin Legislature to pass disclosure legislation and because a narrow 4 to 3 majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court suspended a G.A.B. rule requiring disclosure of the donors of these outside groups that went into effect last August 1st.

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.

The need for the Legislature to act in December is critical. First, it needs to trump the irresponsible action of the Wisconsin Supreme Court in blocking the G.A.B. rule. Passage of disclosure legislation that would then be signed into law by Governor Jim Doyle would accomplish that. Second, the campaign for the Wisconsin Supreme Court seat currently occupied by Justice David Prosser is already underway. Unless the Legislature passes disclosure legislation in December it is likely that hundreds of thousands -- and perhaps millions of dollars worth of undisclosed campaign ads masquerading as issue advocacy will begin to air in January. Should the citizens of Wisconsin be forced to endure yet another campaign dominated by outside special interest groups without knowing who is behind the money? Unless the Legislature passes disclosure legislation and Doyle signs it into law it is almost certain that Wisconsinites will be subjected to another nasty state supreme court campaign awash in secret money.

This is not a partisan question of doing this while the Democrats control the Legislature and Wisconsin has a Democratic Governor. It needs to be done now in order for disclosure to be in effect for the upcoming State Supreme Court election this winter and during early next Spring.

Decker, Sheridan and Doyle should act now for the sake of future elections in Wisconsin. Beginning with the election just ahead in early 2011. It would be a great victory for transparency in Wisconsin and a welcome holiday gift for Wisconsinites of all political persuasions.


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

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