A bipartisan agreement (AB-225) at the state Capitol would update Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws and modernize the elections process.
The bill, in part, would double existing campaign contribution limits in the state so that individuals can donate more money to candidates. Bill sponsors say steering more cash directly to the candidates would reduce special interest influence; however, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s Mike McCabe says this theory has already been tested and “it just doesn’t hold water.”
“When we had the recall elections and there were no campaign contribution limits whatsoever, and a single individual gave as much as $510,000 to a candidate, the outside interest groups still outspent the candidates by close to $15 million.”
McCabe says outside interest groups will trump the candidates even with no limits in place. McCabe says there is “tripartisan agreement” among voters — Democrats, Republicans and independents alike — that the money in elections needs to be reined in.
“The elected officials are way more afraid of their cash constituents than they are of their voting constituents, and they’re doing a lot more to cater to their big cash constituents than they are to representing the concerns and interests of their voting constituents. That’s a fundamental problem in our democracy.”
This legislation would double current limits on campaign donations. According to Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, “a tiny group of donors equal to four one-thousandth of 1 percent of Wisconsin’s population are bumping up against the current limits … In 2012 a total of 243 wealthy donors — including 149 from out of state — reached Wisconsin’s $10,000 annual limit on campaign contributions.”
Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Representative Cory Mason (D-Racine) testified together before the committee. They say the legislation ” increases contribution limits so that individuals can donate more to candidates, thereby increasing transparency and accountability.” They say the bill would also boost the frequency and amount of campaign finance and ethics information provided to the public.
AB-255 also contains many updates to election administration, including a change to make voter registration simpler and more accurate, according to bill sponsors, by allowing voters to register through a secure online website. This method would provide extra security, cost-savings, and greater efficiency compared to current methods.
Government Accountability Board’s Kevin Kennedy says online registrants would be immediately cross-checked with the Department of Transportation’s database to verify their identity.
The legislation passed the Assembly in June. The Senate Committee on Elections and Urban Affairs heard testimony on the bill Wednesday.