Open Memo to Senate on “Issue Ad” Bill

January 15, 2010

TO: All Senators

FROM: Mike McCabe, Executive Director, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign

SUBJECT: Vote on Senate Bill 43 scheduled for Tuesday, January 19

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign strongly supports Senate Bill 43 and urges you to vote for this bipartisan disclosure legislation closing the “issue ad” loophole special interests are exploiting to secretly spend unlimited sums of money to influence state elections.

The distinction between issue ads and all other political ads is utterly lost on the average voter, and with good reason. Just like other campaign ads, phony issue ads plainly try to convince people how to vote – often by distorting candidates’ records or smearing their personal reputations. There is no greater ill in state elections and closing this gaping loophole in Wisconsin ’s campaign finance laws is the single most significant action you can take to make elections in our state better.

Voters have a right to know who is behind all these ads, where the groups get their money and how much they are spending to influence the outcome of elections. When SB 43 becomes law, voters will have that information they are entitled to. SB 43 does not prevent anyone from speaking. It simply requires everyone involved in electioneering activity to play by the same rules, fully disclosing their campaigning and operating within existing state campaign finance laws in raising funds to pay for their messages.

Special interests don’t need the issue ad loophole to fully participate in elections. They need it to conceal their activities from public view and keep voters in the dark about who is really paying for the election-season advertising they sponsor. And they need it to skirt longstanding limitations on campaign contributions in Wisconsin law.

We applaud Senate leaders for scheduling SB 43 for debate on Tuesday, and we urge you to cast a vote for the public’s right to know and for cleaner and fairer elections at the conclusion of that debate.