Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Seriously Flawed Campaign Finance Measure to Get a Hearing Wednesday/Monday's Appleton Redistricting Reform Hearing

Common Cause in Wisconsin Reform Update
Wednesday - December 18, 2013

Jay Heck – 608/256-2686

1. Bill to Raise Contribution Limits that No Citizen Wants
2. "Alternative" Public Hearing on Redistricting Reform Draws a Crowd in Appleton Despite Snowstorm

1. A campaign finance measure that no citizen of Wisconsin (outside of the Capitol or special-interest lobbying corps) has asked for or supports, will be the subject of a public hearing today in the Capitol.

Assembly Bill 225 passed in the State Assembly last June on a voice vote. Common Cause in Wisconsin led the fight to force drastic changes to the legislation when it was first introduced at the end of May. But while the final version was a vast improvement over its original form, we did not then, and cannot now support it because the downside to the legislation far outweighs the little good that it contained.

Adding online voter registration was unquestionably positive. Other states have had this for some time, and it is time Wisconsin enters the twenty first century with, at the very least, this voter technology. But the doubling of campaign contributions is a big mistake -- like pouring gasoline on a fire in a system that is already awash in incomprehensible amounts of special interest and secret money. Doubling the contribution limits for Assembly candidates from $500 to $1,000 and for State Senate candidates from $1,000 to $2,000 is bad enough -- but doubling the limit for statewide candidates from $10,000 to $20,000 is intolerable. Anyone who suggests that an individual making a $20,000 campaign contribution to a candidate for public office in Wisconsin will not be "remembered" and that candidate will not be "beholden to" the contributor in some way is either naive or dishonest. It's no different than a child remembering which Aunt sent him or her a birthday card with a crisp $20 bill and which Aunt just sent a card. It's human nature.

Worse than even that provision in AB 225, is the one which doubles the amount of special interest political action committee (PAC) money that can be collected by the four legislative campaign committees -- which are controlled by the four legislative leaders in the Capitol: the Assembly Speaker and Minority Leader and the State Senate Majority Leader and the State Senate Minority Leader. The last thing Wisconsin needs is more political power and money concentrated in the hands of the legislative leadership in the Capitol. As we warned last June, that is a prescription for political disaster and another scandal.

We urge you to contact your State Senator and tell her or him that you oppose Assembly Bill 225 in its current form. If you are not sure who your State Senator is, go here.

2. In contrast to AB 225 -- which has no public support whatsoever, but still gets a public hearing -- redistricting reform legislation (Assembly Bill 185 and Senate Bill 163) has the support of tens of thousands of Wisconsin citizens as well as that of 15 Wisconsin daily newspapers, CC/WI and the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin. Seven and a half months after it was introduced and after hundreds of requests to hold a simple public hearing on the legislation, State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (D-Rochester) still refuse to sanction even airing the issue. This cannot be helping their public image.

Instead, they have their proxies issue immature, petulant and factually-challenged press releases like this one Monday, from State Representative Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva), who has obviously never even read the redistricting reform legislation he so vehemently opposes. Both on the floor of the Assembly in mid-November and yesterday in his release, August states: "I do not support putting that responsibility [for drawing the boundaries of state legislative and congressional districts] into the hands of an unelected, unaccountable board."


Nowhere does AB 185 and SB 163 give any district drawing responsibilities to any "unelected board" whatsoever. That task goes to the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau and must be approved by an up or down vote of both houses of the Legislature. One would think, at the very least, opponents would know what they are against.

Despite all that drama, an "alternative" public hearing on redistricting reform was held in the Appleton Public Library on Monday evening and about 60 citizens braved a snowstorm to engage in the discussion. State Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) and State Representatives Penny Bernard Schaber (D-Appleton), Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) and Eric Genrich (D-Green Bay) received testimony from many in the audience including Common Cause in Wisconsin State Governing Board members Cal Potter of Sheboygan Falls, Roger Utnehmer of Sturgeon Bay and CC/WI State Director Jay Heck. The League of Women Voters of Appleton also spoke in favor of the reform as did many other citizens from the Appleton area. No one spoke against redistricting reform. Again, no one outside the Capitol seems to think it's anything but an excellent reform that needs to be instituted in Wisconsin.

Invited to participate in the hearing were State Senators Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) and Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), who chairs the State Senate Committee with jurisdiction over Senate Bill 163. Also invited were State Representatives Dean Kaufert (R-Neenah) David Murphy (R-Greenville) and Chad Weininger (R-Green Bay), who is the new Chair of the Assembly Committee with jurisdiction over redistricting reform legislation, replacing Tyler August. Let's hope Weininger has at least read AB 185 before condemning it for something that is not contained in the legislation, as August repeatedly did.

In any event, none of the Republican legislators attended the hearing on non-partisan redistricting reform. But we will keep trying -- because this, afterall, is not an issue that is or should be partisan.

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

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