New Campaign Finance Reporting Laws Shroud, Mock Transparency

August 12, 2016

Mystery Donor

Legislative and statewide officeholders and candidates provided little or no useful information that the public could use to identify the economic interests of wealthy campaign contributors behind nearly half the $5.3 million in total individual contributions they accepted in the first half of 2016.

The amount of information that legislative and statewide candidates had to report about campaign contributors was slashed when Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP-controlled legislature approved several sweeping changes, effective this year, to the state’s campaign finance laws.

Under previous state law, legislative and statewide candidates were required to identify in their campaign finance reports the occupation and employer of contributors who gave them more than $100 in a calendar year. Candidates are now required to identify in their campaign finance reports only the occupation of contributors who give them more than $200 in a calendar year.

A Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review of campaign finance reports covering contributions received between January and June by legislative and statewide officeholders and candidates found that about $2.6 million in contributions of more than $100 had little or no useful information about the donor’s livelihood.

No longer being required to identify a wealthy contributor’s employer effectively conceals a donor’s interest in a bill, policy or other motive behind the contribution. Here are a few examples of how some large contributors to Walker were identified under the old campaign finance laws versus the new campaign finance laws, which require only occupation information:

  • Elizabeth Uihlein, of Lake Forest, Ill., used to be identified by Walker and other recipients of her contributions as the president or owner of Uline, Inc. In his most recent report, Walker identified Uihlein, who gave him $20,000 in May, simply as a “president”;
  • Ted Kellner, of Mequon, used to be identified by Walker and other contribution recipients as CEO, chairman or executive of Fiduciary Management Inc. In his latest campaign report, Walker identified Kellner, who gave him $20,000 in May, simply as an “analyst”;
  • Stephen Ziegler, of Oconomowoc, used to be identified as the president or owner of Inpro Corp. by Walker and other recipients of his contributions. In his latest campaign report, Walker identified Ziegler, who gave him $20,000 in April, as a “co. chairm”;
  • James Moeller, of Waunakee, used to be identified as the president of CSM Companies by Walker and other contribution recipients. In his latest campaign report, Walker identified Moeller, who gave him $10,000 in February, only as a “CEO”;
  • George Gialamas, of Madison, used to be identified as the owner or CEO of the Gialamas Co. by Walker and other contribution recipients. In his latest campaign report, Walker identified Gialamas, who gave him $5,000 in January, only as an “owner.”

Some contributors are tagged with identifiable livelihoods, like “attorney,” “homemaker,” “physician,” “realtor,” “teacher,” “dentist,” or “banker.” But for several hundred contributions the occupation information is virtually meaningless. The Democracy Campaign found:

  • About 380 contributions totaling about $233,000 whose donors were identified as “owner,” “business owner,” “small business owner,” or “owner/operator,” “owner/cfo,” or “founder”;
  • About 265 contributions totaling about $250,300 whose donors were identified as “president,” “president and CEO,” “company president,” or with similar titles;
  • 165 contributions totaling about $77,200 whose donors were identified as “self” or “self-employed”;
  • About 140 contributions totaling about $141,700 whose donors were identified as “CEO” or with similar titles;
  • About 130 contributions totaling about $105,000 whose donors were identified as “executive,” “exec,” “business executive,” or with similar titles;
  • About 100 contributions totaling about $71,000 whose donors were identified as a “vice president,” or with similar titles;
  • About 90 contributions totaling about $40,300 whose donors were identified as “manager,” “business manager,” “general manager,” “project manager,” “management,” or “store manager”;
  • About 40 contributions totaling about $105,000 whose donors were identified as “chairman” or with similar titles.