Joint Statement on Campaign Finance Reform

League of Wisconsin Municipalities
Wisconsin Alliance of Cities
Wisconsin Association of School Boards
Wisconsin Counties Association
Wisconsin Towns Association

December 8, 1999

As local government associations, we are very different organizations with very different agendas, focusing on a wide spectrum of public policy issues ranging from local roads to statewide teacher licensure. Likewise our organizations have addressed campaign finance reform in very different ways and at varying levels. Some have felt it was not our place to comment on reform proposals, others have spoken in support of specific proposals.

Today we speak with one voice.

We have seen the political process in Wisconsin change in some very distressing ways. Campaign spending is spiraling out of control and special interests are playing an increasingly dominant role in financing elections. The most powerful special interests now enjoy disproportionate access to public officials at key times in the legislative process.

In contrast, our organizations do not dispense campaign contributions through political action committees. We do not donate "soft money" at out-of-state political committees that then bankroll campaign activities here in Wisconsin. We do not flood the airwaves with "issue ads" that only thinly veil the use of corporate money to influence the outcome of elections.

We believe that without campaign finance reforms that ensure public policy decisions will be determined on the merit of the issues, not on the size of special interest donations, the future of Wisconsin government is at risk. In today’s pay-to-play environment, the voices of locally elected officials are diminished. Wisconsin’s proud tradition of clean and open government has been badly tarnished and state lawmakers must work on a bipartisan basis to achieve comprehensive reform.

True reform must:

Adequately fund a public financing system in a manner that creates incentives for candidates to accept spending limits. Limiting campaign spending while reducing the influential role of special interest money in policymaking is an investment in our future. Limiting campaign spending will allow room in the electoral process for candidates of modest means. Spending limits may be the key to curtailing the use of some of the most objectionable campaign weapons, most notable 30-second TV ads.

Control independent spending. For reform to be authentic, "issue ads" should be regulated as political ads. Unless reform takes on both issue ads and the independent expenditure campaigns that often drown out the voices of even the candidates themselves, the grip special interests have on policymaking will not be loosened.

Include provisions for timely reporting. In order for the public to be aware of who is supporting candidates and who is contributing to legislators at critical times in the legislative process, twenty-four hour reporting of major contributions should be required at all times.

We also believe reform must confront the growing problem of out-of-state money in Wisconsin politics as well as the creation of "Super PACs" that launder donations from special interest committees and enhance special interest influence over the legislative process. We are also concerned about the extent to which legislative campaign committees have become an important point of access for special interest groups seeking to sway policy decisions.

We, as public policy organizations, believe in merit-based policymaking. In order for it to happen the legislature must pass bipartisan, comprehensive campaign finance reform legislation. It is the issue behind all issues. There is nothing more important the legislature should do.