Monday, June 27, 2011

U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down Matching Public Funds But the Effect on Wisconsin is Not Clear Yet

Common Cause in Wisconsin Reform Update - June 27, 2011
  1. Nation's Highest Court Takes Another Swipe at Clean Elections
  2. Redistricting Reform in Wisconsin to be Launched Tuesday

1. The U.S. Supreme today -- in a narrow and sharply divided 5 to 4 decision -- struck down a provision in Arizona's campaign finance law that provides public matching or "rescue" funds to candidates for state office in that state who abide by spending limits and agree to utilize only public financing in their own campaigns. Those candidates were then eligible to receive additional marching or rescue funds if their opponent did not abide by spending limits and/or if outside groups spent money attacking the candidate or supported the abiding candidate's opponent.

The decision in McComish v. Bennett was not a surprise at all and was fairly narrow in its scope and application. What it did not do is strike down public financing itself, as many experts feared it might do. The matching or rescue funds provision is but one aspect of Arizona's (and Wisconsin's) public finance law and there are a number of ways to repair it. And today's decision may not have a lot of practical effect on Wisconsin's Impartial Justice Act, which was enacted into law in December, 2009 and which provides full public financing to candidates for the Wisconsin Supreme Court who abide by spending limits. There is a matching funds provision in the Wisconsin law, but it was not utilized in the April State Supreme Court election narrowly won by Justice David Prosser over challenger Joanne Kloppenburg. Both Prosser and Kloppenburg abided by spending limits of $400,000 and both utilized no private contributions. And the matching funds provision of the Impartial Justice Act never "kicked in" for outside spending because outside groups used phony issue ads which are not yet subject to required disclosure which, in turn, would have triggered the matching funds provision of the law had they been subject to disclosure.

Another difference between Arizona and Wisconsin is that their matching or rescue funds provision applies to all statewide and legislative elections, whereas Wisconsin's law applies only to State Supreme Court elections. Courts, including the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals which is now reviewing Wisconsin's Impartial Justice Act, may view judicial elections and the application of public financing and matching funds somewhat differently than they view matching or rescue funds for legislative and other non-judicial elections.

So, the "jury" is still out on how this U.S. Supreme Court decision will apply to Wisconsin. The decision was misguided and wrong, in our judgment, as Justice Elena Kagen wrote in her strong dissent which was joined by three other justices. But this is not the "death knell" for public financing as some predicted it would be. Far from it. And Wisconsin's Impartial Justice Act was not completely undermined by today's decision. The state budget, which became law yesterday and which stripped away funding for Impartial Justice, was a far more damaging public policy action.

2. With secret maps being quietly circulated in the Capitol about what new state legislative and congressional districts might look like -- all being done at taxpayer expense but out of the public eye -- reform of Wisconsin's secretive and partisan redistricting process is clearly needed. Tomorrow (Tuesday) at Noon, concerned citizens and legislators will hold a press conference in the Assembly Parlor of the State Capitol to discuss newly introduced redistricting reform legislation and what needs to be done in Wisconsin to fix our system.

CC/WI will have more about both the McComish decision and redistricting reform soon, so stay tuned.

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

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Legislative Committee Votes to Advance Bill to Allow Corporations to Evade Election Regulations

Press Release
June 23, 2011

Jay Heck – 608/256-2686

Legislative Committee Votes to Advance Bill to Allow
Corporations to Evade Election Regulations

JCRAR Bill Would Prohibit the Government Accountability Board
From Even Requiring Disclosure of Corporate Campaign Spending

In an astonishing action today the Wisconsin Legislature's Joint Committee on the Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR) voted to forward draft legislation (LRB 2254) that would strip the non-partisan Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) of the ability to promulgate any rule affecting the ability of any corporation to engage in independent spending in a Wisconsin election including requiring any registration or reporting of that campaign spending that is not currently included in Wisconsin campaign law.

The effect of this law would be to allow corporations to spend as much as they want from their general treasuries and not be required to tell the voters of Wisconsin the source of that funding.

This measure comes as a "reaction" to a rule promulgated by GAB that briefly went into effect on August 1st of last year that would have required all entities who engaged in campaign spending 60 days or less before an election to disclose the source of that campaign funding. The Wisconsin Supreme Court blocked the rule from being in effect last August 12th and it has been in "limbo" since. Republicans on JCRAR said this measure was needed because the GAB rule placed undue and burdensome restrictions on Wisconsin citizens -- especially the individual citizen who might want to post a sign on their barn or property in favor of a candidate or who might want to engage in singing in the Capitol. Of course, this measure would go much, much further by prohibiting GAB from regulating citizens and corporations in any way. It is a completely disingenuous and outrageous attempt to allow corporations to forego having to disclose their campaign donors. And, the measure may be unconstitutional.

In January of 2010 the United States Supreme Court issued the now infamous Citizen United vs. F.E.C. decision on a narrow 5 to 4 vote which opened up corporate and union general treasuries to be able to engage in unlimited outside spending to influence federal and state elections. But, in that same decision, the nation's highest court voted 8 to 1 to permit Congress and states to require that the campaign spending from the general treasury of the corporation or union be transparent and that the donors be identified to voters if that campaign spending occurred 60 days or less prior to an election.

But the measure forwarded by JCRAR today prohibits the GAB from requiring even that disclosure.

The vote was 6 in favor of forwarding this horrendous measure and 4 opposed, with the six Republican members all voting for and the four Democrats against.

The measure now will be sent to standing committees in the State Senate and the State Assembly that have jurisdiction over campaign finance laws.

If this measure becomes law, the GAB would become as powerless and as ineffective as the old State Elections Board and State Ethics Board that the GAB was created in 2007 to replace. And it would allow corporations to spend even more freely and without disclosure of where their money is coming from than they can even now. In short, it would be a disaster for Wisconsin.

Contact your State Senator and your State Representative and tell them to oppose this misguided measure. Tell them you oppose LRB 2252 and you demand that they do as well. If you are not sure who your State Senator and State Representative is, go here.

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


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In the News - June 2011