Contribution Limit Violations Plummet

Sunshine discouraging wealthy donors from violating state contribution rules

April 27, 2005

Madison – The number of well-heeled contributors who violate the $10,000 annual limit on total contributions to committees and candidates for state and local offices dropped in 2004 to one, the lowest number since 1999, according to a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review.

Campaign finance reports filed by candidates for state office with the Elections Board showed Madison construction company executive Frank C. Hastings, chairman of J.H. Findorff & Son, made five contributions totaling $10,600 in 2004 (see Table below). WDC previously identified Hastings as among 19 contributors who exceeded the contribution limit in 2001 when he donated $11,400.

2004 Contributions from Frank C. Hastings

Date Recipient and Party Amount
5/27/04 Jim Doyle (D) $5,000
6/23/04 Fred Risser (D) $150
9/8/04 Mary Panzer (R) $250
9/24/04 Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee (D) $5,000
10/15/04 Eric Peterson (R) $200

(Copies of the pages from the candidate and committee campaign finance reports that substantiate the contributors’ donations are available from WDC upon request).

The decline in the number of contributors who violate the limit follows an annual effort by WDC to publicly identify those who do so. In addition, WDC filed complaints with the State Elections Board in 2003 against 39 contributors who violated the limit in 2002, as well as former Governor Scott McCallum’s campaign for accepting more than $10,000 from an individual.

WDC’s review of campaign finance reports filed by the candidates with the board revealed one violator in 1999. The number increased to seven in 2000 and 19 in 2001. Although WDC publicly identified the violators and made available evidence from the reports for verification, the Elections Board refused to take action unless someone filed formal complaints.

WDC filed complaints in 2003 when the number of violators soared to 39, including one who contributed more than $25,000 and six others who contributed $15,000 or more. The complaints at least pushed the board to levy about $7,800 in token fines against 19 of the donors and McCallum. The board could have levied nearly $317,000 in fines under state law.

Four people violated the contribution limit in 2003. WDC publicly identified them but could find no record of Elections Board action against them.

“We’re gratified by the continuing decline in violations over the past two years, and hope this trend continues,” WDC executive director Mike McCabe said. “This is a testimony to the deterrent effects of sunshine. But we would not have had this problem in the first place if the Elections Board had enforced the law without being prodded by citizen watchdogs.”