Assembly Republicans Up Ante to Kill Campaign Reform

GOP Caucus Votes to Subsidize Big Donors and Neuter Public Financing

June 22, 1999

Madison - Last night’s action by Assembly Republicans to provide tax breaks to big-money political contributors and undermine the income tax checkoff that provides funding for public grants to candidates who agree to spending limits is another strong signal that the Assembly GOP caucus is intent on killing campaign finance reform, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

The move comes on the heels of last Thursday’s vote to strip $750,000 from the state budget bill that had been set aside for campaign finance reform by Governor Tommy Thompson. The legislature’s Joint Finance Committee approved the governor’s recommendation on a bipartisan 12-4 vote in April.

The latest Assembly Republican action makes the $1 income tax checkoff for campaigns an add-on -- that is, those taxpayers who check the box on their tax forms would increase their tax liability by $1. Currently, the checkoff designates $1 of a filer’s taxes to the Wisconsin Election Campaign Fund (WECF) and does not increase the taxpayer’s liability.

The GOP caucus also approved a new tax deduction of up to $500 for individual political contributions. Only taxpayers who itemize deductions on their income tax returns would benefit from the deduction, said WDC Executive Director Gail Shea, noting that most taxpayers take the standard deduction and do not itemize.

"The Assembly Republicans’ tax break for political donations is a horrible idea. Instead of limiting the ability of big contributors to influence legislators, this would reimburse them for their efforts to corrupt the process. It subsidizes the people who are the problem. If this passes, you can expect to see a big jump in membership in the Governor’s Club and the Speaker’s Club," said WDC Executive Director Gail Shea, referring to the exclusive groups of big-money donors to Governor Thompson and Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen. "What’s even worse is that they target the tax break to those who itemize deductions. That excludes the average taxpayer and guarantees that only the wealthiest taxpayers can benefit."

Shea said the change to the income tax checkoff is another attempt by Assembly Republicans to eliminate the use of public funds for political campaigns.

"Opposition to public financing is opposition to campaign finance reform," Shea said. "Public financing is the foundation of any genuine reform. Without public grants, there is no legal way to enforce spending limits. Without spending limits, there is no way to reduce the growing reliance on negative TV ads and no way to reduce special interest influence over elected officials."

The Assembly action makes it all the more important for the Senate to take a strong stand in favor of campaign finance reform in its version of the budget bill, Shea said.