Legislating Under the Influence

In this update: 1. New drunk driving law shows signs of alcohol industry influence 2. State board approves corporate election spending rule 3. Blogging up a storm Legislating Under the Influence

Email date: 5/10/10

In this update:
1. New drunk driving law shows signs of alcohol industry influence
2. State board approves corporate election spending rule
3. Blogging up a storm

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New drunk driving law shows signs of alcohol industry influence
When it comes to making campaign contributions in Wisconsin, the alcohol industry isn’t in a class by itself but it doesn’t take long to call the roll. A report issued by the Democracy Campaign today shows that liquor, beer and wine makers, distributors, and taverns and others who sell alcoholic beverages have given more than $2.5 million to legislative candidates and partisan leadership committees over the last 10 years, including nearly $294,000 in 2008 and another $115,000 in 2009 while a number of proposals to stiffen penalties for drunken driving were under consideration.

Compromise legislation passed by the Legislature still left Wisconsin with some of the most lenient drunken driving laws in the country. Proposals to create sobriety checkpoints and criminalize first offenses were defeated, as were proposals to increase beer and liquor taxes to pay for increased incarceration, probation and treatment costs. Wisconsin’s beer tax hasn’t been increased in more than 40 years and is the third lowest in the country. The liquor tax ranks 10th lowest in the nation.

Audio commentary about our findings can be found here.

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State board approves corporate election spending rule
The state Government Accountability Board today put in place an emergency rule requiring disclosure of corporate election spending and set the process in motion to make the rule permanent. The Democracy Campaign’s director appeared before the board this morning to speak in favor of adoption of the rule, characterizing it as a small step in the right direction. The rule requires detailed accounting of election-related spending funded by corporations but only limited disclosure of the funds used to pay for that spending. It does not create as much disclosure as the people of Wisconsin deserve, but it does represent an improvement over past elections where the public was kept totally in the dark about the spending done by corporate interests. The board went as far as current state law allows. It’s up to state legislators and the governor to create more robust disclosure by enacting a law that drills down to expose the origins of the money used to pay for election advertising. To get involved in the effort to convince lawmakers to do just that, go here.

Requiring disclosure of spending also will make the new system of publicly financed state Supreme Court elections under the Impartial Justice Act more effective than it otherwise would be. Candidates participating in the public financing program are eligible for matching funds if interest groups spend money against them, but for spending to be matched it first must be disclosed.

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Blogging up a storm
Our latest Big Money Blog focuses on a good example of the kind of election-related spending for which there has been next to no disclosure. That one came on the heels of another post challenging the common claim made by candidates that their campaign money is coming from large numbers of donors who give small amounts of money. The one before that was turned into a featured commentary in Sunday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.