Lobbyists will no longer face any restrictions on when they can pass along donations from clients and political action committees to candidates for office in Wisconsin. That’s after the state Government Accountability Board on Wednesday backed an interpretation of a recently passed state law that essentially lifted time restraints on those donations.
Before this spring, lobbyists could only make donations to candidates for elected office from their own pocket, or serve as a conduit for outside groups, starting in June of an election year. The intent of the law was to prevent lobbyists from being able to possibly influence major policy debates or the state budget. A bill passed earlier this year and signed by the governor pushed back the start of that donation period, due largely to an earlier date for the fall primary in Wisconsin.
However, because of a drafting error, legislative attorneys and the GAB initially believed the new law prohibited lobbyists from “furnishing” any donations from outside groups to candidates. Lawmakers argued that was not their intent, and the board this week backed off from that interpretation. The board did keep the new date for personal contributions, but removed all restrictions on donations where a lobbyist is serving as a pass-through for the money instead of banning them completely.
While it’s not expected to have any impact on donations this year, the move is raising concerns among government watchdog groups. Jay Heck of Common Cause Wisconsin says he hopes lawmakers will revisit the issue next spring and restore the original intent of the law. Otherwise, he says it “would obviously pose a tremendous conflict in terms of people perceiving that contributions were affecting the construction of the budget.”
Legislative leaders have so far indicated they plan to fix the issue. Heck says he expects there to be plenty of pressure for them to do so when lawmakers return to the Capitol next session.