Republican-controlled Assembly not only did not pass any campaign finance reform this session

For Release: March 13, 2008

Contact: Jay Heck – 608/256-2686

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…….