McCallum Ducks, Doyle Dodges on Campaign Reform

Barrett, Falk, George, Nusbaum & Lautenschlager Back Ellis Bill; Burke Says Yes, Sort Of; Shibilski Mum; Farrow & Thompson Give Thumbs Down

December 12, 2001

Madison - The frontrunners in the governor’s race ran for cover when challenged to take a public stand on the leading campaign finance reform bill awaiting action in the state legislature, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reported today.

In a November 27 letter to the announced candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, the Democracy Campaign asked for a public commitment of support for Senate Bill 104, a comprehensive reform measure authored by Neenah Republican Michael Ellis that has earned bipartisan support. The letter indicated the candidates’ responses would be made public the week of December 10.

Governor Scott McCallum replied that he does not comment on specific legislative proposals. McCallum’s silence on SB 104 is at least the fourth time he has failed to provide leadership on issues relating to political corruption since becoming governor, WDC executive director Mike McCabe said.

"Governor McCallum could have put funding in the budget for campaign reform as his predecessor did. He had the chance to veto funding for the corrupt legislative caucuses. He was asked to authorize the attorney general to challenge the legislature’s use of state funds to pay private lawyers to defend employees under criminal investigation. And now he had the opportunity to take a position on a reform bill whose author is from his own party. The governor failed every one of these tests of leadership," McCabe said.

Attorney General James Doyle, a Democratic candidate for governor, responded that he did not support SB 104 in a letter that outlined objections strikingly reminiscent of those expressed on numerous occasions by the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state teachers union.

"His letter could have been written by WEAC lobbyists. He took the words right out of their mouths," McCabe said, noting what the attorney general termed "practical and constitutional questions" regarding independent spending by special interest groups. "Doyle is like so many opponents of campaign finance reform. He likes the word ’reform,’ but is not fond of the actual legislation."

McCabe called the legal questions Doyle cited a lame excuse for ducking leadership responsibility. "Opponents of every reform bill - from the Ellis bill here in Wisconsin to McCain-Feingold at the national level - say if reform is enacted it might be struck down by the courts. The only way you can be sure that a reform bill will pass muster in court is if you don’t try to solve any problems that have emerged since 1976," he said, referring to the year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark Buckley v. Valeo campaign finance case.

Among the other announced candidates for governor, U.S. Representative Tom Barrett, Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and State Senator Gary George all went on record in support of SB 104. Barrett wrote that supporting the Ellis reform plan is a "no-brainer." In her letter, Falk wrote that if she becomes governor and SB 104 "comes onto my desk, I will sign it into law." George is the one candidate who has voted for the bill. As chair of the Senate Judiciary, Consumer Affairs and Campaign Finance Reform Committee, he held a hearing on the legislation, brought it to a vote and voted for it. It passed George’s committee on a bipartisan 4-1 vote. City of Tomah Mayor Ed Thompson, a Libertarian candidate, said he opposes SB 104 and suggested an eight-year term limit for the governor and state legislators is a better option.

Lieutenant Governor’s race: Nusbaum yes; Farrow no; Shibilski no comment

Of the candidates for lieutenant governor, only Brown County Executive Nancy Nusbaum endorsed SB 104.

Lieutenant Governor Margaret Farrow, a co-sponsor of the original version of the Ellis bill in the Senate last session, replied that the bill now costs too much given the state’s current fiscal situation and expressed doubt that it could pass anyway. State Senator Kevin Shibilski’s campaign indicated he is not prepared to take a position on the bill.

AG’s race: Lautenschlager yes; Burke supports concept

Former U.S. Attorney Peg Lautenschlager expressed unequivocal support for the Ellis bill and called on the legislature to enact it promptly. The other announced candidate for attorney general, State Senator Brian Burke, said he is "supportive of the concepts embodied in Senate Bill 104."

McCabe said getting the candidates to take a public position on the reform legislation is only the first test of leadership on the issue.

"Standing up and being counted is important. But it’s really the easy part. Now the hard work begins - really fighting for what they say they believe in. We’ll be watching closely to see whether any of the candidates pass the true test of leadership, which involves being willing to take political risks and spend political capital to make reform a reality," he said.

He noted that Burke and Shibilski in particular are in a position to provide leadership on the Ellis bill because both are members of the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee. SB 104 has cleared two legislative hurdles and now awaits action in the finance committee.

Position of Candidates for Statewide Office on
Campaign Finance Reform Legislation (Senate Bill 104)

Candidate Office Response
Scott McCallum Governor "I do not comment on specific legislative proposals. . ."
James Doyle Governor "SB 104 as written poses serious practical and constitutional questions."
Tom Barrett Governor "Supporting Senate Bill 104 . . . is a no-brainer."
Kathleen Falk Governor "As Governor, if Senate Bill 104 comes onto my desk, I will sign it into law."
Gary George Governor As chair of the Senate Judiciary, Consumer Affairs and Campaign Finance Reform Committee, George held a public hearing on SB 104, scheduled it for a vote and voted for the bill.
Ed Thompson Governor "Enacting term limits . . . would more directly promote citizen legislators. . ."
Margaret Farrow Lieutenant Governor ". . . it seems doubtful that SB 104 will be enacted . . ."
Nancy Nusbaum Lieutenant Governor "I support SB 104 not because it is the panacea of campaign finance reform but because it is a step in the right direction. If we wait for the 'perfect' campaign finance reform package, we will be spending $1 million on an assembly race."
Kevin Shibilski Lieutenant Governor Campaign staffer telephoned to say Senator Shibilski is not prepared to take a position.
Brian Burke Attorney General "I am of course supportive of the concepts embodied in Senate Bill 104. I am working to see that the bill is heard and debated in the Finance Committee and on the floor of the Senate as soon as possible."
Peg Lautenschlager Attorney General "I would like to not only express my support for SB 104, but also to encourage both houses of the State Legislature to quickly enact this or other campaign finance legislation."