Doyle Dithers on Reform

An Open Letter to the Governor on Reform

December 15, 2003


Governor James Doyle
Room 115 East
State Capitol
Madison, WI 53702

Dear Governor Doyle:

Your call last Friday for prompt action on campaign reform legislation now that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the McCain-Feingold law was most welcome and much needed, but the substance of the action you propose falls far short of what is required to even begin cleaning up Wisconsin politics and repairing our state’s battered reputation for honorable government.

The reform you now call for also falls well short of what you were advocating during your campaign for governor. Responding to a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign candidate survey in August 2002, you pledged that you would "work to see that comprehensive campaign finance reforms are in place for the 2004 election and that new restrictions on campaign fundraising are in effect for the entire 2003-2004 legislative session." You further pledged to "publicly endorse, actively work to advance and sign into law comprehensive campaign finance reform legislation as strong or stronger than 2001 Senate Bill 104." This session’s Senate Bill 12 certainly matches that description.

You specifically expressed support for reform legislation that provides public financing grants equal to at least 45% of new spending limits to candidates who agree to limit their spending as well as matching grants for candidates who agree to the spending limits but who face opponents who refuse to abide by the limits or who have independent campaigns run against them by special interest groups. You also endorsed a requirement that groups running "issue ads" within 60 days of an election referring to a clearly identified candidate disclose their identity and report both the amount spent and the source of money used to pay for the communications.

We are disappointed that you are now backtracking on your earlier support of comprehensive reform legislation. Even the limited reform you are proposing to deal with sham issue ads is significantly less ambitious than both your previous position on this matter and the new federal law supported by Congress and the president and upheld by the nation’s highest court.

Your statement last Friday called for a law subjecting issue ads run within 30 days of an election to the same contribution limits and disclosure requirements as all other campaign ads. The McCain-Feingold law provides protection from the scourge of phony issue ads for a full 60 days before a general election. Why on earth would you want Wisconsin’s law to be half as strong as the new federal law?

Recognizing that the federal law that bears his name is only a small first step toward reform, Senator Feingold already is seizing the opportunity to build on the court victory by lending his name to at least two new proposals for more comprehensive reforms. When Wisconsin’s own senator and his bipartisan allies in Congress are forging ahead with an ambitious reform agenda - with, as he says, the "wind at our back" - the minimalist approach you recommend at the state level is particularly striking and embarrassing.

We agree with you that the Supreme Court’s ruling gives Wisconsin the green light to move forward with reform legislation at the state level. But we believe the state’s response to this historic opportunity should be bold, not tepid. The state should aim to enact legislation that makes Wisconsin a national leader in the area of campaign finance reform. The reform you propose for Wisconsin pales in comparison to even the modest beginning achieved at the federal level.

We hope you will rethink your position and provide leadership as governor that is consistent with the promises you made during your campaign. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues further with you.

Sincerely,

Mike McCabe
Executive Director