Should big money campaign contributions be classified as bribery? That’s the argument made by a coalition of groups seeking to amend the state’s conflict of interest laws. “We’re using bribery not as a metaphor,” said Robert Kraig with Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “We are saying that this ought to be a crime, and that a crime in ethical terms is taking place.”
AUDIO: Bob Hague reports (:60)
Mike McCabe with the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign said there’s already a widespread realization, that campaign cash is corrupting the political process. “So, we’re trying to start conversation here. We’re trying to get people to start saying out loud, what everybody is thinking.”
The proposal would not ban campaign contributions outright, but would require state officials to abstain from acting on matters of interest to those who’ve provided them with substantial campaign support. “You’re average citizen sees this game for what it is,” McCabe said during a Capitol press conference on Tuesday. “They understand that their voices are not being heard. They understand that wealthy interests that provide all this money are ceaselessly being catered to in this building.”
“We think the public already believes this is a crime, but it’s happening in a legalized way, through a campaign finance system that allows money to trump people,” said Kraig. They’d also like to see the state’s gift ban – which prohibits officials from accepting anything of value – to be updated to include campaign contributions. McCabe said it’s a matter of common sense that such contributions are of considerable value to the politicians who receive them.
Given the widespread acceptance of campaign contributions, McCabe conceded that such reforms would face considerable resistance at the Capitol. “I don’t think that public officials are going to seriously wrestle with money in politics, and the system of legal bribery that is growing up around them, voluntarily,” he said. “They’re going to have to be pushed.”