Campaign Finance Reform Gets Serious This Week!

Contact: Jay Heck, (608) 256-2686

Campaign Finance Reform Gets Serious This Week!

Public Hearing in Madison and Eau Claire

May 23, 2009: State Capitol cynics, political insiders and defenders for the corrupt status quo like to claim (falsely) that real citizens don’t really care about clean, honest government and political reform. They say that if citizens really cared, why do they tolerate special interest group domination of our elections and public policy-making and the scandals and corruption that seem to have become the norm rather than the exception in our once pristine state politics?

This upcoming Wednesday, you will have an opportunity to prove the cynics and insiders wrong by weighing in on the side of substantive and meaningful campaign finance reform at public hearings being held simultaneously in Madison and in Eau Claire. CC/WI has learned this is the first state legislative hearing that will ever have been conducted by teleconference from two different locations.

At the the Common Cause Wisconsin (CC/WI)-organized campaign finance reform forum in Eau Claire on April 20th, State Rep. Jeff Smith (D-Eau Claire), the Chair of the Assembly Committee on Campaigns & Elections, told the more than 100 attendees that his committee would hold this public hearing on ASSEMBLY BILL 65 — the so-called “Impartial Justice” legislation. This measure, introduced by Rep. Gordon Hintz (D – Oshkosh), would provide 100 percent public financing to qualifying candidates for the State Supreme Court who agreed to abide by a voluntary spending limit of $400,000. State Senator Pat Kreitlow (D-Chippewa Falls), who also spoke at the April 20th Eau Claire event, is the primary Senate author and sponsor of the legislation, which has also been introduced as Senate Bill 40.

Rep. Smith, who decided to schedule the public hearing on May 27th prior to the Eau Claire Forum — and used that event to announce it — has also added ASSEMBLY BILL 63, bipartisan legislation that would require the disclosure and regulation of widely-disseminated campaign communications masquerading as issue advocacy. It would apply only to communications that run 60 days or less prior to an election. Rep. Kristen Dexter (D-Eau Claire) was also a participant at the Eau Claire reform forum and provided concrete examples of these phony issue ads. She is the chief Assembly sponsor AB 63. Identical legislation was introduced in the State Senate as Senate Bill 43, and the chief sponsor there is Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton).

CC/WI first proposed this reform back in 1997, and we have been relentlessly pushing for its enactment into law since then. If enacted, AB 63/SB 43 would close the single largest loophole in Wisconsin’s outdated and ineffective campaign finance laws. In 2000-2001, CC/WI led an effort to pass similar legislation that passed in the State Senate and came within one vote of passing in the Assembly. This time, the votes are there for passage in both the Assembly and State Senate and Governor Jim Doyle would almost certainly sign it into law.

The May 27th public hearing will be a joint hearing of Rep. Smith’s Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections and the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Corrections, Insurance, Campaign Finance Reform, and Housing – chaired by Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee). It will be held simultaneously in Eau Claire (at the Old Library on the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire campus) and in Madison (at the State Capitol in Assembly Hearing Room 411 South). During the hearing, the two sites will be linked via teleconferencing. So, those who wish to testify can do so in either city. Rep.Smith, Rep. Dexter and Sen. Kreitlow will be in Eau Claire and Sen.Taylor and the other members of the two committees will be in Madison. The hearing is scheduled to begin at 2:00 PM.

This will be an historic event. It will mark the first time in almost two decades that major, bipartisan and sweeping campaign finance reform legislation has had a public hearing in the Assembly. And, as stated earlier, it marks the Legislature’s first attempt at holding a dual-city public hearing linked by teleconference.

Try to attend one of these upcoming public hearings. If you cannot, please be sure to inform both your State Senator and your State Representative that you support these reform measures and insist that they do so as well. And let Governor Doyle know how you feel as well. This is no time to be quiet and sit on the sidelines!