Small Portioin of Tobacco Settlement Could Pay for All of Campaign Finance Reform

January 26, 1999

Madison - The WDC called on the governor to propose using a small portion of its $5.9 billion share in a multi-state settlement with the tobacco companies to fund campaign finance reform in order to stem the future influence of special interests like tobacco.

"It is only fair that the governor and the Legislature use a small portion of this money to reform a broken campaign finance system," Gail Shea, WDC executive director, said Thursday. "Tobacco and other special interests have used the system for years to pressure lawmakers to quash higher cigarette taxes, regulations and other efforts to restrict and discourage deadly tobacco use among kids and adults."

Recommendations by the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Campaign Finance Reform would cost an estimated $4 million a year. That amounts to less than 3 percent of the estimated $150 million each year that the state is expected to get from big tobacco over the next 25 years.

In a letter to Thompson, Shea said a decision by the governor to fund the recommendations would be consistent with his often-stated goal to reduce the obscene amount of money that was spent in the past two elections. "That reduction in special interest influence would let all elected public officials devote even more energy toward creative and necessary public policies," Shea wrote.

"A small portion of this settlement from an industry that helped create the campaign finance problem is a legitimate use of this money," Shea said.

The WDC is a nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog group.

Letter to Governor Thompson

November 19, 1998

The Honorable Tommy G. Thompson
Governor of Wisconsin
State Capitol
Madison, WI

Dear Governor Thompson,

You have a unique opportunity to fix the broken campaign financing system that dominates politics today by using a fraction of Wisconsin’s share from the tobacco settlement to fully fund the Clean Elections System advocated by your Blue Ribbon Commission on Campaign Finance Reform.

Such a proposal, which would amount to less than 3 percent of the expected annual payment to the state, is clearly legitimate. Big tobacco, like other power special interests, has abused the current campaign finance system to ultimately quash proposed restrictions, regulations and other efforts aimed at preventing and discouraging deadly tobacco use. The industry’s use of campaign finance coupled with high-spending lobbying has hurt efforts to encourage and educate children and adults to lead healthier lifestyles, and to reduce tobacco-related health care costs.

In a poll commissioned by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign this October, the citizens of Wisconsin expressed their views that spending in campaigns should be limited (88%) and that special interest influence must be reduced (79%). The people of Wisconsin want sweeping and fundamental reform of the way we finance campaigns (73%). You can implement this desire for change by using a small amount of the tobacco settlement for campaign finance reform.

Your decision to fund your Commission’s Clean Elections System would be in line with your often-stated goal to reduce the obscene amount of money spent in the past two elections. That reduction in special interest influence would let all elected public officials devote even more energy toward creative and necessary public policies. This would give new life to Wisconsin’s reputation as a national leader in efforts to strengthen the voices of ordinary citizens in their government.

We would appreciate your response, or any questions that you or your advisers may have on the issue.

Cordially,

Gail Shea
Executive Director