Wealthy Donors Max Out and Then Some

In this update: 1. 27 rich donors violate campaign contribution limit 2. Reaction to Supreme Court ruling on McCain-Feingold law Wealthy Donors Max Out and Then Some

Email date: 6/26/07

In this update:
1. 27 rich donors violate campaign contribution limit
2. Reaction to Supreme Court ruling on McCain-Feingold law

More than two dozen wealthy contributors violated the annual $10,000 limit on contributions to state campaigns in 2006, a Democracy Campaign analysis released today shows.

Not only do these findings shed light on the intensity of the chase for campaign cash and the lengths big donors will go to influence state elections and government, but they also illustrate one of the reasons why the state Elections Board was abolished in the ethics reform law enacted earlier this year and will soon be replaced by a new, politically independent enforcement agency under the direction of a nonpartisan Government Accountability Board.

The Elections Board’s failure to consistently and rigorously enforce Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws sent a message to big donors that they had little reason to fear the consequences of violating limits on contributions. That bred disrespect for the law.


Reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling yesterday on Wisconsin Right to Life’s challenge to the federal McCain-Feingold campaign reform law reflected a wide variety of opinion, but also some basic misunderstandings of the law and the court’s decision.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel called it a "horrible ruling," while the Green Bay Press-Gazette considered it a "win for free speech." Both the Press-Gazette and Wisconsin State Journal columnist Bill Wineke fell for the popular mischaracterization of sections of McCain-Feingold’s electioneering communications provisions as a "blackout period" banning ads focusing on candidates for federal office from airing within 60 days of an election.

The law contains no blackout period during which ads are censored. Any group can air any ad – including the Wisconsin Right to Life ad that was the subject of the group’s lawsuit – right up to Election Day. McCain-Feingold only says groups may not use corporate treasury funds or labor union treasury funds to pay for the ads within 60 days of an election. And the law requires ad sponsors to disclose to the public where the money used to pay for the ads came from. As the Journal Sentinel rightly pointed out, the "court struck a blow not for free speech but against transparency."

Here is U.S. Senator Russ Feingold’s statement on the ruling.