Expert's Experts say Wisconsin Needs Reform

In this update: 1. Brennan Center finds Wisconsin campaign finance laws lacking 2. Lobbying spending goes through the roof 3. Secret electioneering starts in earnest in Supreme Court race Expert’s Experts say Wisconsin Needs Reform

Email date: 2/20/07

In this update:
1. Brennan Center finds Wisconsin campaign finance laws lacking
2. Lobbying spending goes through the roof
3. Secret electioneering starts in earnest in Supreme Court race

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law today released an assessment of Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws. It is nothing if not a call to action.

The attorneys at the Brennan Center are truly the experts’ experts on this subject. No one has written more campaign finance reform bills at the national, state and local levels than Brennan’s lawyers. In fact, they wrote the book on writing reform laws. And no one has more experience defending campaign finance reform laws in court than the Brennan Center.

The report says Wisconsin’s campaign finance system is in "dire need of updating." It goes on to say the public financing system of state elections in Wisconsin is "useless and unused" and that "the public remains in the dark about the financing of major independent advertising campaigns that influence elections" here. Moreover, Wisconsin’s campaign contribution limits are "so high that they are virtually meaningless."

When a national authority on the subject like the Brennan Center says our campaign finance system is "broken and badly in need of reform," state policymakers should take notice.

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Interest groups spent more than $58 million influencing state lawmakers during the 2005-2006 legislative session, a new record for lobbying state government in Wisconsin. For more details . . . and a few choice words about the second oldest profession, see our latest Big Money Blog.

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Today is election day. Don’t forget to vote. Among the contests is the race for state Supreme Court. Today’s primary election will narrow the field of candidates from three to two.

It now appears virtually certain that this year’s high court race will set new records for fundraising and spending. This is not just because the candidates are on a pace to meet or exceed past spending levels, but also because outside interest groups have this race in the crosshairs.

The big business lobby Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce has been airing radio ads and mounted a direct mail campaign backing conservative Annette Ziegler in the weeks leading up to today’s primary election. The Wisconsin chapter of the right-wing national group Club for Growth has been running TV ads on behalf of Ziegler.

All of this special interest campaigning is being done in the form of phony "issue ads," meaning the public is kept in the dark about who is financing the advertising. As the April general election approaches, this secret electioneering is sure to intensify.