Citizen Groups Win Emergency Elections Board Rule on Campaign Finance Disclosure

4-Year-Old “Citizens Right to Know’ Law Finally to be Implemented

May 22, 2002

Madison - The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and Wisconsin Citizen Action applauded the emergency rule adopted today by the State Elections Board requiring candidates to file their campaign finance reports electronically to give citizens quicker access to information about donations candidates receive.

The Elections Board acted in response to the threat of a lawsuit by the two groups to seek a court order forcing the agency to implement the "Citizens Right to Know" law. The electronic disclosure law was enacted in 1998 and was supposed to be implemented by July 1999. The Elections Board never implemented it, however, leaving Wisconsin as one of only a few states without a system of electronic disclosure of campaign information.

"This is another victory for the public’s right to know," WDC executive director Mike McCabe said, noting that the Elections Board action comes on the heels of the court ruling that opened to public inspection records of legal fee payments for lawmakers and legislative staffers under criminal investigation in the caucus scandal.

"A law is only effective if it is implemented," said WCA legislative director Carolyn Castore. "This solution is basic and it will take effect immediately."

The new rule will require an estimated 300 candidates who have received or spent $20,000 or more in the campaign period to file their upcoming July reports and subsequent reports on a computer disk using specified software.

WDC and WCA worked for implementation of the law since its enactment four years ago, but in January hired a law firm to pursue a court order. In a March 22 meeting, the groups secured a commitment from Elections Board executive director Kevin Kennedy that the Board would act on an emergency rule implementing the law. In early April, the law firm representing WDC and WCA submitted a draft rule to Kennedy. The rule proposed by the two groups was adopted today with only minor technical revisions.

Castore noted that the two groups had tried a number of avenues to speed implementation of the law. "When it became clear that the money was not in the budget for a grand solution, we asked the Board to consider a simpler approach or face a lawsuit. We were prepared to go to court to ensure Wisconsin citizens have the access to information they need to make decisions."