Campaign Finance Reform Slows Down

New campaign finance reforms continue to make their way through the legislative process. The reforms completely rewrite Chapter 11 in Wisconsin statutes and make significant changes.

The Assembly passed the bill 61-0, after all Assembly Democrats recused themselves from the vote. Democrats argued they had a substantial financial interest in seeing the bill pass, therefore it would be inappropriate to vote on the bill at all. Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) reacted by referencing Wisconsin statutes;  a state public official is not prohibited from voting on this type of measure.

The bill awaits Senate action and they are scheduled to be on the floor Tuesday.  A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said the bill would be taken up, however there may be amendments.

The bill is over 100 pages and includes an amendment with over 100 revisions. The most significant components include, and are not limited to, the following:

  1. The bill maintains the prohibition of corporations and other employers from making contributions with the exception of contributions to an independent expenditure group, a referendum committee or a segregated fund established or administered by a political party or legislative campaign committee for purposes other than making contributions to a candidate.
  2. The bill includes a definition of express advocacy – communication that contains terms such as the following or their functional equivalents with reference to a clearly identified candidate and that unambiguously relates to the campaign of that candidate:
    • “Vote for”
    • “Elect”
    • “Support”
    • “Cast your ballot for”
    • “Smith for … (an elective office)”
    • “Vote against”
    • “Defeat”
    • “Reject”
    • “Cast your ballot against”.
  3. The bill doubles the current contribution limits for candidates. Contributions limits will increase to $20,000 for gubernatorial, $2,000 for state senate, and $1,000 for state assembly candidates.
  4. The bill removes limits to contributions to a PAC and transfers between PACs, with the exception that PACs can’t contribute more than $12,000 to a legislative campaign committee or political party.
  5. The bill allows the host of a political fundraiser to pay for invitations, food and beverages for an event in their private residence without the value being included as part of their individual contribution limit.
  6. The bill clears up the interpretation of furnishing contributions by lobbyists. It clarifies a lobbyist may delivery or discuss contributions to candidates from individuals who are not lobbyists and committees.