Campaign Finance Bill Rewritten to Hide More Information from the Public

October 16, 2015

A Republican bill that allows candidates to coordinate their election activities with secretive dark money groups that don’t have to disclose their fundraising or spending was rewritten to hide even more information about the influence that wealthy special interests have on Wisconsin elections.

The measure, Assembly Bill 387, was amended Thursday by a legislative committee to drop a longstanding requirement in state law that candidates for the legislature and statewide offices disclose the employer of campaign donors who give them more than $100 in a calendar year. The bill now required candidates to identify only the occupation of campaign contributors who give them more than $200 in a calendar year.

AB387 is moving very quickly through the legislature. The change by the committee to reduce public disclosure was made after a public hearing Wednesday on the bill, which is expected to be considered next week by the Republican-controlled Assembly.

The elimination of employer information from a candidate’s campaign finance report would make it more difficult for the public to determine the special interest groups that are supporting and possibly influencing a candidate’s position on an array of policy issues, including taxes, social programs and spending, and environmental deregulation.

In addition to the latest changes, the bill, ironically, doubles campaign contribution limits to legislative and statewide candidates. If approved by the legislature and the governor, the measure increases maximum contributions to $1,000 for Assembly candidates, $2,000 for Senate candidates and $20,000 to candidates for statewide office. Starting in 2021, those limits would be adjusted every five years for inflation.

On top of the diminished public disclosure and higher campaign contribution limits, the measure also allows wealthy donors to give as much as they want to political parties and fundraising committees controlled by Democratic and Republican Assembly and Senate leaders. This provision effectively lets contributors elude the individual contribution limits to candidates because political parties and legislative leadership committees may turn around and contribute unlimited amounts to candidates.

Finally, the bill also writes into state law a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision in July that gave wide latitude to letting candidates collude with phony issue ad groups that don’t have to report how much they spend in an election or the wealthy special interests that back them. Candidates and these dark money groups would be able to coordinate advertising, mailings and other electioneering activities.