Thursday, May 29, 2014

Redistricting Reform, Voting Rights and "Dark" Money at Racine Forum on June 5th

For Release: Thursday - May 29, 2014

Reform Forum in Racine on June 5th to
Focus on Redistricting Reform, Voting Rights
and "Dark" Money in Our Elections

State Rep. Cory Mason, State Sen. John Lehman,
Andrea Kaminski of the League of Women Voters-WI Among Panelists

Next Thursday night, Common Cause in Wisconsin is holding a free public forum at the Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church entitled: "Political Reform in Wisconsin: Where Things Stand." The event will run from 6:30 to 8 PM and will include a lengthy Q&A with the audience

We urge citizens from Racine and surrounding communities to attend this important issues forum.


In 2011, Wisconsin experienced the most secretive, partisan and expensive (over $2 million) redistricting process in state history – resulting in dramatically less competitive State Legislative and Congressional districts. We'll talk about why a measure that takes redistricting out of the hands of partisan legislators and puts that process into the hands of a non-partisan entity should be put into place as soon as possible – for the next redistricting process that will occur in 2021.

We'll also discuss Wisconsin’s 2011 extreme and restrictive photo voter ID law, the far-reaching implications of Federal Judge Lynn Adelman’s sweeping decision striking down that law in April – and the likelihood of a voter ID law returning in a new form in the near future. We will also take a closer look at other voting restrictions that were rammed through the Wisconsin Legislature in March at the end of the 2013-2014 legislative session.

And what about all that dark money flowing into Wisconsin?

Tens of millions of dollars were spent by outside interest groups on largely negative advertising leading up to the 2012 recall and general elections. But the citizens of Wisconsin still don't know who was really behind much of this avalanche of “outside” campaign cash and the constant barrage of special interest group “phony issue ads” during those elections.

Panelists and audience members will explore whether this lack of disclosure of these anonymous communications is a form of protected "free speech" – or if citizens should have the right to know who is trying to influence their vote.

Another issue we plan to cover is the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous 2010 decision Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission allowing corporations, labor unions and other interest groups (and their "Super PACs") to use unlimited money from their general treasury coffers to flood our airwaves with negative messages, giving them far greater influence on the outcome of elections. We'll discuss how Citizens United has affected Wisconsin.

And just last month, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down yet another horrendous decision in McCutcheon vs F.E.C. (or as some call it: “Citizens United, Part 2), allowing wealthy individuals to donate to many more candidates per election cycle, further expanding the corrupting influence of money in our political system, while drowning out the voices of non-wealthy voters. We’ll talk about McCutcheon and how it will affect Wisconsin – and we will explain a couple of other recent federal court decisions concerning Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws.

These and other vital reform issues will be the focus of discussion next Thursday, June 5th from 6:30 to 8pm at the Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church in Racine. This event is the latest in CC/WI's continuing series of "reform forums" around Wisconsin.

As noted above, the panelists will be State Representative Cory Mason (D-Racine), State Senator John Lehman (D-Racine), League of Women Voters executive director Andrea Kaminski, and CC/WI executive director Jay Heck.

Public Policy Chair Cheryl O'Brien of the American Association of University Women-Racine Branch will moderate the event.

For all of the details about this forum, go here. The event is free and you are encouraged to attend and participate!

Jay Heck – 608/256-2686

Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI  53703

Want Good Government?
Join Common Cause in Wisconsin!


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Judge's Order to Shut Down John Doe Probe Demonstrates Need to Close Phony Issue Ad Loophole


Jay Heck
608/256-2686 (office)
608/512-9363 (cell)

For Release: May 7, 2014

New Urgency to Close Phony Issue Ad Loophole in Wisconsin
in Wake of Federal Judge's Order to Halt Investigation

U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa yesterday issued a decision to halt a secret "John Doe" investigation by five county district attorneys that began in 2012 to investigate possible illegal campaign coordination between Governor Scott Walker's campaign in the recall election of 2011-2012 and outside conservative special interest groups who supported Walker. The decision will almost certainly be appealed to the Federal Court of Appeals in Chicago. But Randa's decision underscores the continued and urgent need for Wisconsin to enact into law effective electioneering disclosure legislation.

Randa ruled that Wisconsin Club for Growth and other outside special interest groups such as Wisconsin Right to Life and United Sportsmen of Wisconsin were not in violation of Wisconsin law prohibiting coordination between such groups and a candidate's campaign because they did not engage in "express advocacy" in their efforts for Walker. Instead they utilized issue advocacy – or in reality – "phony" issue advocacy, which is express advocacy masquerading as issue advocacy. Randa said in his decision "the (Wisconsin Club for Growth and its treasurer) have found a way to circumvent campaign finance laws . . . "

In Wisconsin, express advocacy is subject to registration, regulation and disclosure requirements. Phony issue advocacy is not – yet, but should be.

Express advocacy has been defined by Courts since the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision as communications that utilize terms such as "vote for," or "defeat," or "support." But for years, the way to get around that definition and the requisite disclosure requirements was to avoid the express advocacy terms referred to as "magic words." And obviously it is easy to do and still be able to influence the outcome of an election.

An example of express advocacy that would trigger disclosure and would make it illegal for there to be any coordination between a group utilizing it – and the campaign of the candidate they were supporting – would be: "Scott Burke would be a wonderful Governor for Wisconsin and you should vote for Scott Burke on Tuesday." It contains a "magic word term" – vote for.

An example of issue advocacy – really phony issue advocacy, not subject to disclosure – would be: "Scott Burke loves Wisconsin and wants to eliminate your taxes, make your schools better and clean up your environment. Call Scott Burke and tell him you agree with his plan." No magic words.

Obviously in the period before an election there is no difference in the effect that either communication would have in the minds of someone seeing or listening to it. Both advocate for the election of Scott Burke. But only the first one triggers disclosure. The second one does not under current Wisconsin law. That is an obvious loophole in Wisconsin's law the size of Siberia. But it is exactly that loophole that outside special interest groups like Wisconsin Club for Growth have utilized for years to spend millions of dollars to influence the outcome of elections in this state, but have escaped disclosure. And it was this very loophole that Judge Randa cited in his decision to stop the John Doe investigation, presumably because he believes that coordination between outside special interest groups utilizing phony issue ads and candidate campaigns is not illegal.

Wisconsin Club for Growth spent over $9 million on behalf of Walker in 2011-2012, but Randa seems to be saying that because the communications utilized were largely (or completely) phony issue ads and not express advocacy, then there was not illegal coordination. That defies logic – but whether it is illegal or not will be determined by the Federal Court of Appeals.

Since 1997, Common Cause in Wisconsin has advocated closing this phony issue ad loophole and requiring outside groups that run widely-disseminated communications that no reasonable person could otherwise interpret as attempting to influence her or his vote for or against a candidate (even if it does not contain one of the so-called "magic words"), be subject to registration and disclosure – if it is run in the period of 60 days or less prior to the election.

This is not an infringement of free speech. This is common sense. And even the conservative U.S. Supreme Court majority who "gave" us the Citizens United V. F.E.C. decision in 2010 told Congress and the states that they really ought to require disclosure and regulation of the massive amount of outside money they were unleashing on our elections.

In 2013-2014, CC/WI helped initiate and promoted such electioneering disclosure legislation with bipartisan co-sponsorship – Senate Bill 166. Clearly after Judge Randa's decision yesterday, it is needed even more urgently than ever.

For more on this developing story go here, here and here.

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

Want Good Government?
Join Common Cause in Wisconsin!


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

CC/WI Public Forum in Racine on June 5th

Political Reform in Wisconsin

Where Things Stand

Thursday, June 5, 2014
6:30 – 8:00 PM

Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church
625 College Avenue

Racine, Wisconsin

 ** Event is Free... and so are the cookies! **

Panelists: State Representative Cory Mason (D-Racine)
State Senator John Lehman (D-Racine)
Andrea Kaminski, Executive Director, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin
and CC/WI Executive Director Jay Heck

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) declined to participate due to other scheduling commitments; State Representative Thomas Weatherston (R-Racine) did not respond to our invitation.

Please come join in the discussion and learn more about:

Redistricting Reform and Voting Rights in Wisconsin

Additional topics include:

Disclosure of interest-group “phony issue ads” and other “outside” spending
How the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions affect Wisconsin
The future of campaign spending limits/public financing in Wisconsin

               Presented by:
                 Underwritten by:






Thursday, May 1, 2014

In the News - May 2014