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.