Reform Groups Urge McCallum to Veto Funding for Legislative Caucuses

August 2, 2001

Madison - The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and Common Cause in Wisconsin today asked Governor Scott McCallum to use his partial veto authority to eliminate funding for the four taxpayer-funded legislative caucuses that are at the center of a growing state government scandal.

In a letter to the governor, WDC executive director Mike McCabe and Common Cause in Wisconsin executive director Jay Heck wrote that "activities are being carried out that violate state ethics and campaign finance laws" and that "taxpayer money is being horribly misused to pay for this secret, illegal campaigning."

Heck and McCabe said in the letter that the caucuses’ activities have contributed to less competitive state elections and fewer choices at the ballot box for voters. The caucuses also have damaged the legislative process by concentrating too much power in the hands of legislative leaders and thus making rank-and-file lawmakers less responsive to their voting constituents, they said.

They noted in the letter that Governor McCallum supported the abolition of the caucuses when he served in the state legislature and has made public comments since becoming governor calling into question the continued usefulness of the caucuses.

Letter

August 1, 2001
 
Governor Scott McCallum
State Capitol
P.O. Box 7863
Madison, WI 53707

Dear Governor McCallum:

We are writing to ask you to use your partial veto authority to do what the legislature should have done during its budget deliberations - eliminate funding in the budget bill for the four legislative caucuses.

Outstanding investigative reporting has made the public aware of what has long been understood inside the Capitol about the caucuses - that activities are being carried out that violate state ethics and campaign finance laws, and that taxpayer money is being horribly misused to pay for this secret, illegal campaigning.

So damning was the evidence of these abuses that one caucus saw the need to destroy or hide documents being sought by the Wisconsin State Journal, an obvious and outrageous violation of the state’s open records laws.

The caucuses were created to serve a legitimate purpose, and at one time many years ago they more or less confined themselves to those research and policy analysis functions. However, with the expansion of legislators’ personal staffs and the excellent nonpartisan legislative service agencies over the years, the caucuses were rendered obsolete. But instead of abolishing these offices as the legislature should have, they've been reincarnated as nothing but taxpayer-funded campaign headquarters.

Elimination of the caucuses would save the taxpayers of Wisconsin nearly $8 million over the two years covered in the recently approved budget. A gubernatorial veto would not only be an appropriate response to the overwhelming evidence that taxpayer money is being used to break the law, but also would be an urgently needed response to the daily damage the caucuses are doing to the integrity of the policymaking process in Wisconsin and to the health of our democracy.

Thanks in large part to the caucuses, voters get fewer choices at the ballot box. In 1970, before the caucuses were turned into the taxpayer-funded campaign headquarters they are today, there were no uncontested legislative races in Wisconsin. Every incumbent had at least a major party opponent. In the 2000 elections, 40% of incumbent legislators were unopposed. That’s because these leadership-controlled machines have supplanted local political party organizations. Local parties have an interest in having someone on the ballot in every community to carry the party’s banner, while legislative leaders only care about a handful of battleground districts that will decide who controls the legislature. Caucus resources are allocated accordingly.

Thanks to the caucuses, citizens get less responsive representation. Twenty years ago, Wisconsin had one of the most decentralized legislatures in the country - a legislature full of maverick spirit. Today, we have one of the nation’s most centrally controlled legislatures. That’s because the caucuses give the legislative leaders control over the campaign machinery as well as the purse strings, giving them the ability to hand-pick politicians of their choosing to serve under them in the legislature. No wonder so many citizens are increasingly feeling their elected representatives are more responsive to the powers-that-be in the Capitol than to the communities they were elected to serve.

You supported the abolition of the caucuses during your years in the legislature and have made public comments since becoming governor about how the caucuses have outlived their usefulness. You are now in a position to eliminate these offices through the use of your partial veto power, and we hope you will act in the interest of Wisconsin taxpayers and in the interest of a healthy, vibrant democracy by eliminating funding for the legislative caucuses.

Sincerely,

Mike McCabe
Executive Director
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign 
Jay Heck
Executive Director
Common Cause in Wisconsin