GOP Bill Guts State Campaign Finance Law

Posted: October 8, 2015
Updated: April 19, 2016

Republican lawmakers introduced a bill draft (AB 387) Wednesday that allows candidates and secretive dark money special interest groups to coordinate their fundraising and spending activities during an election.

The legislation puts into state statutes a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision in July that gave wide latitude to allowing candidates and phony issue ad groups to coordinate their electioneering activities, like broadcast advertising and mailings.

Independent expenditure groups that spend more than $5,000 would have to register their fundraising and spending.

However, there is little difference between the messages sponsored by independent expenditure and phony issue ad groups. Both of these electioneering methods often smear or praise a candidate. Independent expenditure groups expressly tell readers and listeners who to vote for or against in an election, while phony issue ad groups do not, however the message about who they support or oppose is clear.

For instance, here’s a phony issue ad sponsored by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s largest business organization, that praised Republican Gov. Scott Walker during last year’s race for governor, and here’s an independent expenditure ad by the National Rifle Association that praised the governor.

Here are highlights of the GOP bill to dismantle Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws:

  • Allows candidates to coordinate their campaign and electioneering activities, like advertising and mailings, with dark money issue ad groups with no fundraising or spending disclosure requirements;
  • Continues to allow unlimited contributions to political parties, political action committees (PACs) and campaign fundraising committees controlled by legislative leaders (legislative campaign committees);
  • Allows corporations, labor unions, cooperatives and tribes to make unlimited contributions to political parties;
  • Allows unlimited contributions by political parties and legislative campaign committees to candidates;
  • Doubles the individual and political action committee contribution limits to $1,000 per Assembly candidate, $2,000 per Senate candidate, and $20,000 to candidates for governor and other statewide offices. The contribution limits will then be increased every five years, starting in 2021, based on the inflation rate during the previous five years;
  • Increases candidate reporting requirements from semi-annually to quarterly in odd-numbered years and from four times a year to six times a year in even-numbered years;
  • Excuses individuals, PACs and independent expenditure committees which spend less than $5,000 on independent expenditures within 60 days of an election from reporting their fundraising and spending activities.