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Wisconsin Assembly Votes to Overhaul Campaign Finance Laws and the GAB

Flickr - Althouse

UPDATE: The Assembly has voted to change Wisconsin's campaign finance laws and to scrap theGovernment Accountability Board.

The vote on the campaign finance changes was  59-0, with only Republicans casting ballots. Democrats refrained from voting on the plan when it initially came to the floor, so they could not vote on the final version Monday. Most Republicans voted to eliminate the GAB, although a few crossed to vote with Democrats to keep the agency.

The measures now headed to Gov. Walker's desk would raise contribution limits, scrap the requirement that donors disclose their employer, and allow third party groups to coordinate with candidates. The state would also replace the Government Accountability Board with two political panels that would oversee elections and ethics.

We present two perspectives on the legislation.

The first is from supporter Rick Esenberg, an attorney with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. He told WUWM’s LaToya Dennis that the changes are necessary. For instance, Esenberg says it makes sense to legalize coordination between campaigns and third party groups because it already happens.

"If the SEIU wants to oppose right to work legislation or a form of prevailing wage law, it generally is in contact with elected officials and potential candidates for elective office, and they do work together on what the messaging should be," Esenberg says. 

“The idea was that we would get money out of politics, but you can’t get money out of politics because as long as the government is making decisions that involve millions and billions of dollars, people will want to be heard,” Esenberg adds.

On removing workplace disclosure:

“Part of the problem that we’ve seen in Wisconsin and in other places over the past years is that if people are compelled to report where they work when they donate to a campaign, then other people decide that it’s appropriate to retaliate or call for boycotts of their employers,” Esenberg says.

The second viewpoint is from an opponent of the proposed changes, Jay Heck, who heads the government watchdog group Common Cause. He told WUWM’s Marge Pitrof that changing Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws and scrapping the GAB, would open the door for political corruption.

"The package undoes much of what made Wisconsin a model for the nation terms of elections, the political process and transparency of state government," Heck says.

Who is demanding these changes?

"It's a combination of aggressive outside interest groups including AFP/Koch brothers, right wing publications such as the WSJ Editorial page, but this is also where the far right wing, the conservative wing of the GOP has gone," Heck says.

What might supporters want?

"This is part of a national agenda - if you can undermine a system such as Wisconsin's, then you can do it anywhere in the country," Heck says.

Citizens here don't seem to be too concerned, at least they have not expressed much opposition, at least compared to when proposals surfaced for changing Wisconsin's open records laws.

"There is some communication flowing into the Capitol, but the open records assault was also opposed by the right wing.

"Polling shows 90% of Republicans as well as Democrats oppose more money in elections. But, the process (of advancing this legislation) has been so rushed, that people don't know what's inside, and the longer it's out there, the more people will turn against it," Hecks says.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.