Recommended Reforms

September 14, 2006

Logo: League of Women VotersLogo: Common Cause in WisconsinLogo: Wisconsin Democracy Campaign

Public opinion survey research conducted by the national polling firm Belden Russonello & Stewart demonstrates that the people of Wisconsin are deeply concerned about political corruption and are convinced their voices will not be heard and they will not be effectively represented unless reforms are enacted. Wisconsin residents strongly support reforms that address government corruption and revitalize democracy, and clearly believe such reforms will make a big difference. In response, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Common Cause in Wisconsin and the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin are putting forward the following reform agenda:


  • Revitalize Wisconsin’s voluntary partial public financing system by:
  • Setting reasonable, voluntary spending limits as a threshold condition for receiving public funds and for reducing campaign costs in the most competitive races (for example, no more than $60,000 for Assembly candidates, $120,000 for Senate candidates, and $4 million for gubernatorial candidates).
  • Providing candidates who voluntarily agree to limit their spending with public grants equal to at least 35 to 45 percent of the legally established spending limits for the offices they seek.
  • Requiring increased disclosure and regulation of interest-group “issue ads.”
  • Offering supplemental public grants to candidates who are targeted by interest group spending or are opposed by candidates who do not agree to limit their spending.
  • Providing a reliable funding source sufficient to cover the full cost of public grants to candidates.
  • Prohibit campaign fundraising during the state budget process and ban contributions by anyone bidding for a state contract.
  • Eliminate leadership-controlled legislative campaign committees.
  • Limit contributions from special interest conduits.
  • Ban the pooling of special interest political action committee money to create so-called “SuperPACS.”


  • Step up enforcement of the state’s ethics code and election campaign laws by replacing the current state Elections Board and Ethics Board with a politically independent enforcement agency under the direction of a Government Accountability Board with seven nonpartisan members. An enforcement division of the new agency would be empowered and provided resources to investigate violations and bring civil and criminal actions to enforce the state’s elections, ethics, and lobbying regulation laws.


  • Tighten up the state’s “revolving door” policy by requiring at least a one-year “cooling off” period before former legislators and key administrative officials can become registered lobbyists.
  • Require disclosure of attempts to influence decisions on state contracts. (Currently lobbyists must disclose actions aimed at influencing legislation or administrative rules, but not contracts.)


  • Complete and fully implement a computerized statewide voter registration system as required under the federal Help America Vote Act of 2002.
  • Permit experimentation with alternative voting procedures such as preferential or rank-order voting – also commonly known as instant runoff voting – to enhance voter choice, address concerns about “wasted votes” or “spoiler candidates” and thereby stimulate greater interest in participating in elections.


  • Establish a voluntary full public funding system for election campaigns of state Supreme Court and other state appellate judges.


  • Make electoral competitiveness a legal or constitutional standard that must be applied by the Legislature and the courts in establishing district boundaries.
  • Establish an independent commission or authority to handle the task of redrawing legislative and congressional districts after each census.


  • Create a system of free air time for Wisconsin candidates by requiring the state’s public broadcast stations and public access channels to set aside a certain amount of time for this purpose.
  • Enact a state “stand by your ad” law requiring candidates to appear and personally state their responsibility for the content of the ads they sponsor.

Press ReleaseJoyce Foundation Press Release (pdf)
Survey Highlights (pdf) Wisconsin Survey Results (pdf)