New Campaign Reform Initiative Takes Aim at Partisan Gridlock

Coalition of Public Interest Groups Offer Common Sense Recipe for Bipartisan Reform

July 5, 2000

Madison - A coalition of 20 public interest organizations today unveiled a new campaign finance reform proposal that re-establishes campaign spending limits, tightens limits on campaign donations, creatively addresses independent electioneering by special interest groups and breathes new life into Wisconsin’s once effective system of public financing of election campaigns.

The groups’ "Voters First" bill takes some provisions from Republican reform proposals, others from Democratic proposals and splits the difference between the two sides on other issues.

Logo: Voters First!"Our plan is a common sense recipe for breaking the partisan logjam on this issue," Wisconsin Democracy Campaign executive director Mike McCabe said. "In the last session of the legislature, both houses passed versions of campaign finance reform they knew the other house would reject. And the two sides never sat down to work out their differences. That’s unacceptable and cannot be allowed to happen again."

"This measure contains most of the unprecedented and even revolutionary public financing provisions contained in the major Republican and Democratic comprehensive reform bills of 1999-2000 and attempts to bridge the most contentious differences between them," said Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin. "There are no surprises here, just common sense solutions that provide the foundation upon which genuine, bipartisan agreement can be reached."

"This proposal, like Senator Ellis’ and Senator Clausing’s comprehensive bills, guarantees a source of partial public financing for candidates, which is critical. It also includes, like Ellis and Clausing, a public funding match for candidates who face opponents who exceed the spending limits or who are victims of outside spending. Its enactment would make Wisconsin the national leader in campaign finance reform," Heck added.

Joining Common Cause and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign in advancing the "Voters First" bill are the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, AARP, Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups, Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group, Wisconsin Federation of Teachers, Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, Wisconsin Coalition for Advocacy, Wisconsin Retired Educators’ Association, American Association of University Women-WI, National Farmers’ Organization-WI, Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin, the United Church of Christ’s Social Concerns Commission, Wisconsin’s Environmental Decade, Citizens’ Utility Board, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, Progressive Fox Valley, New Transportation Alliance and the Door County Environmental Council.

The groups will wage a pledge campaign during the 2000 election campaign, asking candidates to commit to supporting the reform concepts embodied in the "Voters First" bill.

Voter’s First Price Tag

The Voters First campaign finance reform proposal is estimated to cost $4.4 million a year. To put in perspective that projected annual cost, consider:

  • the cost of Voters First amounts to two one-hundreths of 1% of the $21 billion state budget for the 2000-01 fiscal year;
  • the state spends more than the cost of Voters First on prisons EVERY TWO DAYS;
  • the cost of this comprehensive campaign finance reform plan is one-fourteenth (1/14th) of the amount spent on incumbent legislators’ office accounts, mailing privileges, travel reimbursements, meal allowances, staff and other expenses.

"Many of our state lawmakers say they object to asking taxpayers to pay for public financing of election campaigns but they have no trouble spending taxpayer money on their own care and feeding. They send out newsletters on the taxpayer’s dime and they have taxpayer-paid caucus staffers helping them with their campaigns. We already have a public financing system, but it’s only for those currently in office," Wisconsin Democracy Campaign executive director Mike McCabe said.

"Voters deserve a campaign finance system that gives them some say over who inhabits these offices in the first place," McCabe added. "To free politicians from the grip of special interests, surely we can afford to spend in a year what we spend every two days locking people up."

Voters First ‘Guest’ ColumnComparison with Past Proposals (PDF File)