Capitol Busy with Campaign Finance Reform

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) rolled out legislation that will change current campaign finance laws in Wisconsin. While public reaction to the bill is mixed, the bills have been fast-tracked and will likely receive floor votes next week.

The bill, which comes in at over 100 pages and includes an amendment with over 100 revisions, is a complete rewrite of Chapter 11 in Wisconsin statutes. 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.