The head of a government watchdog group says a recent ruling by the state Supreme Court could mean the end of campaign finance limits in Wisconsin.
The high court this week halted a John Doe investigation that had been looking at Governor Scott Walker’s campaign and conservative groups, who prosecutors believed were illegally coordinating their efforts during the 2012 recall elections. The majority of the court found that state campaign finance laws did not prohibit that activity, since the outside groups were engaging in issue advocacy. Those types of communications involve informing voters about a candidate or issue, but don’t explicitly tell someone to vote for or against a candidate.
Jay Heck with Common Cause in Wisconsin says that way of thinking will “effectively end contribution limits” in the state. He argues the decision “really goes further than any, even federal decision, in terms of opening the floodgates of…secret money into Wisconsin and potentially national races.”
For example, Heck says individual contributions in the race for governor are currently capped at $10,000. However, third party groups that engage in issue advocacy have no limits. Based on the Supreme Court ruling, he believes there’s nothing stopping those groups now from working with a candidate they support, as long as their messages don’t use the so-called “magic words” that ask someone to vote for a candidate.
On top of that, Heck notes those groups typically don’t have to disclose their funding sources, which means individuals can now get around contribution limits by sending money to independent groups that may still be working with a candidate. “The amount of money that can flow directly to help candidates for legislative and statewide office will be unlimited, and that means we will have elections that are essentially bought and paid for by special interest groups.”