Anonymous Donors Loomed Large in 2010 Elections

In this update: 1. Groups spent $19M on state elections; source of funds largely a secret 2. A new kind of state Supreme Court election 3. Walker rulemaking power grab inspired by WMC 4. The end of the Scott Jensen saga Anonymous Donors Loomed Large in 2010 Elections

Email date: 1/4/11

In this update:
1. Groups spent $19M on state elections; source of funds largely a secret
2. A new kind of state Supreme Court election
3. Walker rulemaking power grab inspired by WMC
4. The end of the Scott Jensen saga

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Groups spent $19M on state elections; source of funds largely a secret
After weeks of sleuthing that included looking at everything from TV ad invoices to IRS filings, the Democracy Campaign today issued a report putting a price tag on the campaigning done by outside interest groups to influence the outcome of state elections in 2010. For audio commentary on our findings, go here.

In mid-November, the state Government Accountability Board released figures showing interest groups spent nearly $10 million on state elections. It turns out that was barely the half of it. While 30 groups reported their spending to the GAB, another 10 advertised in a way that enabled them to keep $9 million worth of spending a secret.

The origins of most of the money they spent remains a mystery. Whether or not they reported their spending, most of the groups did not disclose their donors, revealing a major weakness in Wisconsin’s campaign finance disclosure system. Over two-thirds of the $19 million spent by outside interest groups came from anonymous sources.

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A new kind of state Supreme Court election
Recent Wisconsin Supreme Court elections have been ghastly spectacles. There is another coming up this spring, and it could be very different. It will be the first conducted under the new Impartial Justice Act, and early indications are that all four candidates plan to participate in the new public financing system. To qualify, they will need to collect at least 1,000 small contributions of between $5 and $100. Once qualified, they will have to forego private fundraising and abide by limitations on their campaign spending. For more information on the rules they will be operating under, go here. To familiarize yourself with the candidates go here, here, here and here.

A public financing system almost identical to the new one in Wisconsin has been in operation in North Carolina for eight years and has proven successful, as this report shows.

Not only will candidates need the help of citizens to qualify to participate in the public financing system established by the Impartial Justice Act, but when you file your income tax return this year you will notice the checkoff on the form has been changed. It now allows tax filers to designate $3 instead of $1 to public election financing without increasing their tax liability. That’s because $2 of the $3 will go to a new Democracy Trust Fund for Supreme Court elections.

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Walker rulemaking power grab inspired by WMC
Governor Scott Walker recently proposed giving himself new power to approve or reject rules and regulations put forward by state agencies. The governor already appoints most state agency heads, but it’s the legislature that reviews and ultimately either approves or rejects proposed agency rules.

Legislative Democrats and some Capitol observers are calling Walker’s proposal a “power grab.” Wisconsin Public Radio recently aired a story about the possible implications for agencies with independent boards like the Government Accountability Board. You can listen to that story here.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, on the other hand, likes Walker’s idea. No surpise there. It’s not Walker’s idea. It’s WMC’s. It is item number one in the agenda WMC put forward last November.

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The end of the Scott Jensen saga
If you missed Joy Cardin’s interview with the Democracy Campaign’s director on her Wisconsin Public Radio show the Monday after Christmas about Scott Jensen’s sweetheart plea deal dismissing felony charges against the former Assembly speaker, you can listen here.