Reject the So-Called “Compromise” on Campaign Finance and GAB

November 6, 2015

Money

Don’t fall for the so-called “compromise bills” that the Wisconsin State Senate will be voting on today.

The few reported concessions do little to mitigate the enormous harm that both bills will inflict on clean and open government in Wisconsin.

The likely deal on the Senate campaign finance bill would require donors who give $200 or more to a candidate to list who their employers are. The Assembly bill eliminated that requirement.

This would be an improvement over the Assembly bill. It will allow good government groups, the media, prosecutors, and the citizenry at large to see which companies may be throwing their weight around to get sweetheart deals from elected officials.

The fact that the Senate appears to be giving ground on this particular clause is a testament to many people.

It’s a testament to the courage of a handful of Republican state senators who stood up on principle for this, despite pressure from their colleagues and from groups like Americans for Prosperity, which is funded by the Koch Brothers, and which was running ads against them.

It’s a testament to the many citizens who contacted those senators and urged them to make changes to this bill or to vote it down.

It’s a testament to reporters and editorial page writers across the state who, with one voice pointed out the hazards of hiding this employer information.

But while we applaud this one fix, if it indeed happens, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the rest of the bill is a disaster for democracy in Wisconsin.

It would give the wealthiest individuals and the biggest corporations more power than ever to buy politicians and purchase public policy.

It would double the amount of money that any individual could give directly to political candidates. For instance, the limit used to be $10,000 for governor. Now it would be $20,000. And who has $20,000 to throw around but the very rich?

Even worse, the bill would allow individuals to give unlimited amounts of money to political parties. The limit used to be $10,000. Now the sky is the limit, and billionaires could literally give $10 million or more to the parties or their committees.

Still worse, the bill would allow corporations to give unlimited amounts of money from their treasuries directly into the pockets of the political parties. Until this bill, they weren’t allowed to give anything.

And worst of all, the bill would allow coordination between so-called “independent” issue groups and the candidates themselves. This would destroy any meaningful efforts to limit campaign contributions and to provide adequate disclosure. Here’s why: A candidate’s richest friend could donate millions of dollars to an “independent” group, and then the candidate could tell that group how to spend his friend’s money to trash the candidate’s opponent, and no one would ever know about it, because this kind of a donation doesn’t need to be disclosed.

This is a recipe for corruption – and a guarantee that our TV screens will be splattered with even more mud come election time.

On the Government Accountability Board bill, the Senate is also reportedly making a small change. The Assembly bill would destroy the nonpartisan GAB, which is governed by a nonpartisan board of retired judges and has been doing an excellent job, and replace it with two commissions: one covering elections, the other covering ethics, lobbying, and campaign finance. Both boards would have partisan representatives on them, three Republicans and three Democrats each. The Senate bill does the same thing, but would add two retired judges to the ethics, lobbying, and campaign finance board.

This doesn’t get around the basic problem that existed prior to the Government Accountability Board, where partisans on the Elections Board conspired with each other to block enforcement of the laws, since both parties were violating them. That’s what ushered in the Legislative Caucus Scandal, which led to the convictions of the Democratic Senate Majority Leader and the Republican Speaker of the Assembly, among others. The new boards would be similarly handicapped, and inaction would be the order of the day, allowing corruption and criminality to fester.

So let’s be clear: The so-called “compromises” do not alter the fundamentals of these terrible bills, which undermine democracy and clean government in Wisconsin.

They are but a drop of honey on a pile of dung.