Republican-authored legislation to overhaul state campaign finance laws could potentially usher in an era of corruption in Wisconsin, according to Democrats who held a press conference at the Capitol to highlight their concerns. As the Republican-controlled state Assembly takes up three contentious bills this week, Jay Heck of Common Cause said it will benefit GOP leadership.
The bills dismantle the Government Accountability Board, restrict John Doe probes into misconduct by elected officials, and rewrite Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws. That measure would, among other things, lift restrictions on candidates coordinating with outside issue advocacy groups. Heck maintains that will give leadership even more leverage over rank-and-file lawmakers.
“With unlimited money now at their disposal, their power will be absolute and dictatorial,” Heck said on Monday. “The real concern here is the legalization of coordination, which had been prohibited up until the Supreme Court decision in July.”
The campaign finance bill would also double contribution limits to candidates, require more frequent filing of finance reports, and make clarifications on corporate contributions to political parties and committees. It’s moved quickly through the legislative process, having been introduced just two weeks ago.
In introducing the measure, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said 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.
Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison) warned about the lifting of restrictions on candidates coordinating with outside issue advocacy groups. “It’s a free for all of secret campaign cash in our elections,” she said.
All three bills are also expected to pass through the Republican-controlled state Senate and head to Governor Scott Walker for his signature.