Many Wisconsin voters think political ads should be required to disclose where the money that financed them came from.
The latest Marquette University Law School poll found 76 percent of voters believe third party groups should have to list their top donors directly in political ads, while only 21 percent opposed the idea. Jay Heck Common Cause in Wisconsin says the finding doesn’t surprise him. He believes “most citizens think they ought to have a right to know who the donors are; who is trying to influence their vote.”
Heck says Wisconsin currently has no funding disclosure requirements for the third party groups behind the so-called issue ads that have been increasingly common in elections. The ads are able to escape current disclosure laws because of the way the groups are often set up, and because they stop short of urging voters to support or vote against a candidate. Typically, they only use generic names that give no indication of who is behind them. However, Heck argues that most people do see them as political advertisements that are trying to sway their vote.
Heck says lawmakers could easily pass something that requires more disclosure from outside groups, if there was the political will to do so. However, he notes that Republicans in the Legislature actually made a push last session to go the opposite direction, with a bill that would made it harder to track the source of campaign donations. The legislation fell short of passage.
Heck says many other states have adopted strong disclosure laws that have proven effective at keeping the public informed.