Senate Passes Campaign Finance Reforms Bill with Significant Changes to Coordination Restrictions

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 Senate passed the bill 17-15 with an amendment, which made the following changes to the bill:

  • Lowers the monetary threshold triggering registration for political action committees (PACs) and independent expenditure committees (IECs) from $5,000 to $2,500.
  • Changes the ongoing reporting requirement from quarterly reporting to twice-yearly reporting.
  • Eliminates automatic consumer price index (CPI) adjustment of contribution limits.
  • Creates an additional limitation on the use of a legislative campaign committee’s or political party’s segregated fund. Under the amendment, a segregated fund may not be used to make disbursements for express advocacy. The amendment also retains the prohibition on using a segregated fund to make contributions to a candidate committee.
  • Limits the amount a corporation, association, labor organization, or Indian tribe may contribute to such a segregated fund to $12,000 in the aggregate in a calendar year. The original bill had no limit.
  • Incorporates federal law prohibitions on activities by foreign nationals relating to elections

The amendment also made significant changes to coordination restrictions:

  • The coordination restriction applies only to PACs, IECs, other persons required to report express advocacy made within a certain time period before an election, and individuals. Under the bill, the restriction applies to any person.
  • Requires that the express advocacy benefit the candidate with whom the coordination occurs in order for the coordination to be subject to the restriction under the bill.
  • Replaces the three types of activity that constitute coordination under the bill. Under the amendment, an expenditure for express advocacy is considered to be coordinated if either of the following apply:
    • The candidate, candidate’s agent, legislative campaign committee of the candidate’s political party, or the candidate’s political party communicates directly with the PAC, IEC, other person, or individual making the expenditure to specifically request that the PAC, IEC, other person, or individual make the expenditure that benefits the candidate and the PAC, IEC, other person, or individual explicitly assents to the request before making the expenditure.
    • The candidate, candidate’s agent, legislative campaign committee of the candidate’s political party, or the candidate’s political party exercises control over the expenditure or the content, timing, location, form, intended audience, number, or frequency of the communication.
  • Provides that the following are not considered coordinated communications that are prohibited under the amendment:
    • Candidates endorsing and soliciting contributions for other candidates.
    • Candidates, candidate committees, legislative campaign committees, and political parties responding to inquiries about a candidate’s or political party’s position on legislative or policy issues.
    • Using publicly available information to create, produce, or distribute a communication if the use does not constitute coordination, as described above.

This amended bill will now go back to the Assembly for a vote on November 16 for an Extraordinary Session.

On October 21, 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.


Source: Amendment Memo: 2015 Assembly Bill 387, Senate Amendment 1: Wisconsin Legislative Council, November 9, 2015.