Legislation being proposed at the Capitol would make a series of change to state campaign finance laws, which include making it clear how candidates can work with outside groups during election season.
The bill unveiled Wednesday deals largely with issues raised in multiple court cases. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said at a Capitol press conference that it includes several rewrites that the courts have called for. Vos noted that the U.S. Court of Appeals found “Wisconsin’s foundational campaign finance law is in serious need of legislative attention” and that the specific provisions have not had a major revision since the law was created in 1973.
The changes proposed include doubling contribution limits to candidates, requiring more frequent filing of finance reports, and makes clarifications on corporate contributions to political parties and committees. Vos noted that most states already have limits higher than what’s being proposed in Wisconsin, while five states in the Midwest have none at all.
The bill also addresses issues raised by the state Supreme Court earlier this year, when justices halted a John Doe investigation into what prosecutors argued was illegal coordination between Governor Scott Walker’s campaign and outside groups during the recall elections. Justices found that such “issue advocacy” campaigns, where a group does not expressly call for voting for or against a candidate, is not covered by rules against coordination. Vos said the GOP bill would clearly spell that out in state law, protecting “a free and vigorous debate of candidates and the issues.”
The proposed changes were met with skepticism from Jay Heck with Common Cause in Wisconsin, who said the plan is “effectively the complete deregulation of campaign finance law in Wisconsin, including any meaningful transparency or disclosure. Much more money in much larger amounts will flow.”