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Common Cause in Wisconsin

 

Common Cause in Wisconsin (CC/WI) is the state's largest non-partisan citizen reform advocacy organization with more than 3,000 members.  CC/WI works primarily on campaign finance, ethics and lobby reform, open meetings and other issues concerning the promotion and maintenance of clean, open, responsive and accountable government. CC/WI works on issues at the state and federal levels.

 

 


Decker and Huebsch Hold Fate of Special Session on Campaign Finance Reform

CONTACT: Jay Heck - 608/256-2686
FOR RELEASE: March 28, 2008

This week, Wisconsin's legislative leaders and Governor Jim Doyle have been hustling to come to an agreement to address the state's more than half billion dollar budget deficit and reports out of the Capitol suggest that an agreement may be forthcoming very soon.

When (and if) the Special Session on Budget Repair is completed, there will still be one major unfinished piece of the public's business that must be addressed before lawmakers can go home and devote full time to their re-election bids, or those of others: The Special Session on Campaign Finance Reform, called by Governor Doyle last November 30th after a year of badgering by Common Cause in Wisconsin.

While there was a flurry of activity in the State Senate earlier this month on campaign finance reform, including clearing the Special Session reform package (Special Session SB-1.) for consideration by the full State Senate for action, the Assembly did nothing before the 2007-2008 Legislature adjourned for the rest of the year. But the Special Session on Campaign Finance Reform remains very much alive. But in order for anything to happen, State Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker (D-Weston) and Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch (R-West Salem) must take action. Will they?

An article "Legislature Fumbles Campaign Finance Reform" in this morning's Green Bay Press Gazette. provides more details about where they are and where they are going regarding this huge piece of unfinished, must-do business. If Decker, Huebsch and -- for that matter Doyle -- think that they are "done" for the year without addressing campaign finance reform -- they are badly mistaken and they will all shoulder the blame for preserving the corrupt status quo in Wisconsin.

On Wednesday, the new state Government Accountability Board (GAB) did its part to advance campaign finance reform when it voted to consider forcing the disclosure and regulation of many of the type of nasty ads that have inundated the airwaves in the current election for the State Supreme Court between incumbent Justice Louis Butler and Burnett County Circuit Judge Michael Gabelman. Most of these ads are undisclosed, unregulated campaign communications masquerading as issue advocacy--and as such, have escaped even basic disclosure laws so that Wisconsinites have no idea who is spending millions of dollars to influence the outcome of this and so many other elections.

For ten years, Common Cause in Wisconsin has been fighting to force organizations like Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and other shadowy groups to tell the public who is paying for their demoralizing, disgusting advertising and after listening to compelling testimony by one of the leading experts on campaign finance law in the nation testify that the GAB could and should regulate and force disclosure from the groups running these ads, the GAB voted to move ahead. The expert, Deborah Goldberg of the Brennan Center for Justice of New York University, came to Wisconsin at the suggestion of Common Cause in Wisconsin and the case she made for regulation and disclosure of these sham communications -- particularly in judicial elections -- simply overwhelmed the frankly laughable defense for the continued shrouding in secrecy of the donors of these ads made by an attorney representing the special interest groups. For more on this encouraging development read this front page article, "Board May Regulate Issue Ads" in the Wisconsin State Journal.

If the Legislature fails to deal with sham issue ads in the Special Session on Campaign Finance Reform, the GAB, through administrative rule may be able to get the job done. Common Cause in Wisconsin is pushing on every front possible to force action on campaign finance reform.

For more on this development and on the nasty State Supreme Court race tune in to this:

For Program On: Monday, March 31, 2008 at 7:00 AM
Today after seven, Joy Cardin and her guests look first at the state budget then turn to regulation of issue ads and a proposed amendment to appoint rather than elect judges. And we’ll remind listeners to vote tomorrow. Guests: - 7 a.m. Shawn Johnson, State Capitol Reporter - 7:30 a.m. Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin.

For Release: March 13, 2008
Contact: Jay Heck - 608/256-2686

Wis. Legislature Adjourns with No Campaign Finance Reform but CFR Special Session is ALIVE
 

The Wisconsin State Assembly adjourned its 2007-2008 legislative session for the year this morning, shortly after 5:00 AM. The Republican-controlled Assembly not only did not pass any campaign finance reform this session, but the Assembly Republican leadership did not even permit the consideration of a single major campaign finance reform measure.

The Democratic-controlled State Senate is expected to adjourn for the year as well later today. It did pass several major campaign finance reform measures--with big, bipartisan margins during the session. But these measures were never considered in the Assembly.

Political reform got off to an excellent beginning at the beginning of this legislative session. On January 30, 2007 the Wisconsin Legislature overwhelming approved a Special Session compromise ethics and elections boards reform measure that was originated by Senator Michael Ellis (R-Neenah), together with Senators Rob Cowles (R-Allouez), Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) and Common Cause in Wisconsin (CC/WI) more than five years ago in the weeks following the criminal chargings of then-State Senate Majority Chuck Chvala and then -Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen and three other legislative leaders for felony misconduct in the Legislative Caucus Scandal Governor Jim Doyle signed the measure into law on February 2, 2007 -- the culmination of a sustained, determined effort by Ellis, CC/WI members and other pro-reform legislatiors and organizations to bring about the most sweeping political reform in Wisconsin since the late 1970's.

But after that promising beginning.....nothing.

Assembly Republicans refused to even schedule a public hearing on the so-called "Impartial Justice" legislation SENATE BILL 171 that passed 23 to 10 last month in the State Senate and which would provide 100 percent public financing to candidates for the State Supreme Court who qualify for it and who agree to limit their campaign spending to $400,000. The Assembly leadership refused to even refer this measure to an Assembly committee after it passed in the State Senate! Neither Senate Bill 171 nor its Assembly companion legislation ASSEMBLY BILL 250 have ever been on the Assembly Republican radar screen, despite the obscene, record-settng $6 million State Supreme Court election last year in which Annette Ziegler prevailed over Linda Clifford -- or the very nasty and expensive contest currently being waged between sitting Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler and his challenger, Burnett County Judge Michael Gabelman.

And last week the State Senate unanimously approved SENATE BILL 463 , which would force outside special interest groups to disclose their donors in they make a widely disseminated communication that depicts the name, likeness or office being sought of a candidate up for election during the period of 60 days or less prior to the election date. This measure is a rewrite of SENATE BILL 77 which passed in the State Senate last May 9th by a 26 to 7 margin. The rewrite was necessary in order to reflect an opinion rendered last June by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the regulation and disclosure of similar campaign ads masquerading as issue advocacy in federal elections -- which in turn affects state statutes and reform measures.

However, the Assembly leadership never brought this measure up and, instead, let it die.

But campaign finance reform still lives!

Governor Jim Doyle called the Wisconsin Legislature into a Special Session on Campaign Finance Reform last November 30th -- at the behest (and year-long badgering) of Common Cause in Wisconsin (CC/WI). The Special Session has not been adjourned as has the regular session of the 2007-2008 Legislature. The Legislature has to do something first before it adjourn the Special Session.

And the legislation they must consider during the Special Session or reject is SENATE BILL 1, December 2007 Special Session, a comprehensive reform plan that includes the "Ellis-Erpenbach bill" SENATE BILL 12, that provides sweeping reform of campaign finance laws dealing with legislative campaigns as well as statewide races. It was first devised by Senator Mike Ellis with CC/WI back in 1999. Senate Bill 12 is now in its fifth reincarnation. It also includes Senate Bill 171, the "Impartial Justice bill" that reforms state Supreme Court elections.

So while the 2007-2008 session of the Wisconsin Legislature is history, the Special Session on Campaign Finance Reform is still very much alive! With very little else to do now there is really no excuse for the Legislature not to move quickly to pass this much needed reform measure.

Much more soon on this.......
 

 
Will Assembly Republicans Block Any or All Campaign Finance Reform?
 
For Release
Contact: Jay Heck 608/256-2686 
 
Assembly Republicans seem determined to either block any and all campaign finance reform measures, or simply not consider them at all if their actions (or lack of them) recently is any indication of how they intend to end the 2007-2008 legislative session as well as the Special Session on Campaign Finance Reform, called on November 30, 2007 by Governor Jim Doyle at the behest of Common Cause in Wisconsin.
 
Meanwhile, the Democratic-controlled State Senate continues to consider and pass meaningful reform legislation -- most recently yesterday -- when it unanimously approved  SENATE BILL 463 , which would force outside special interest groups to disclose their donors in they make a widely disseminated communication that depicts the name, likeness or office being sought of a candidate up for election during the period of 60 days or less prior to the election date.  This measure is a rewrite of SENATE BILL 77 which passed in the State Senate last May 9th by a 26 to 7 margin. The rewrite was necessary in order to reflect an opinion rendered last June by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the regulation and disclosure of similar campaign ads masquerading as issue advocacy in federal elections -- which in turn affects state statutes and reform measures.
 
The key question now is whether or not the Assembly will consider and vote on Senate Bill 463. In the past Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch has publicly said that disclosure of the donors to outside groups who engage in electioneering activities, including phony issue ads, might be desirable.  Now he needs to make Senate Bill 463, which has no fiscal note whatsoever, a priority or he and Assembly Republicans will be responsible for continuing to keep Wisconsinites in the dark about who is paying for so many of the campaign communications being made in legislative and state elections (including State Supreme Court elections) in Wisconsin currently.
 
Likewise, Assembly Republicans are stalling on even schduling a public hearing on the so-called "Impartial Justice" legislation SENATE BILL 171 that passed 23 to 10 last month in the State Senate and which would provide 100 percent public financing to candidates for the State Supreme Court who qualify for it and who agree to limit their campaign spending to $400,000. Neither Senate Bill 171 nor its Assembly companion legislation  ASSEMBLY BILL 250 have been on Assembly Republican radar screen, despite the obscene, record-settng $6 million State Supreme Court election last year in which Annette Ziegler prevailed over Linda Clifford -- or the very nasty and expensive contest currently being waged between sitting Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler and his challenger, Burnett County Judge Dan Gabelman.
 
Finally, to add insult to injury, Assembly Republicans on the Assembly Committee on Elections and Constitutional Law yesterday defeated another important bipartisan reform measure whose main sponsors were both Republicans (Rep. Mark Gottlieb of Port Washington and Sen. Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls)!  ASSEMBLY BILL 61, legislation first proposed by Common Cause in Wisconsin in 1997, would prohibit campaign fundraising while the biennium state budget is under consideration. This common sense reform measure, again with no fiscal note whatsoever, is in place and works wonderfully in other states such as Minnesota and even in Texas.  But incredibly, the five Assembly Republicans on the Elections Committee -- including the committee Chair, Rep. Sheryl Albers (R-Loganville) who was a co-sponsor of Assembly Bill 61 -- voted to block it. The three Democrats on the committee: Fred Kessler and Annette Polly Williams, both of Milwaukee and Louis Molepske of Stevens Point all voted for it. Albers was joined by Republicans Robin Vos of Racine, Phil Montgomery of Ashwaubenon, Jim Ott of Mequon and Bill Kramer of Waukesha in favor of continuing to raise campaign case while the state budget is being considered. Amazing.
 
Unless they change their tune very quicky, Assembly Republicans -- who hold a narrow 52 to 47 majority in the Assembly -- can and should be labeled as the guardians of the corrupt status quo.  To conclude otherwise is foolish.