Making a Despicable Scheme Even Worse

In this update: 1. Plans for 100% increase in political donation limits exposed 2. Racine baron chafes under campaign contribution limits 3. Budget amendment goes after journalism center 4. Wisconsin voucher expansion underwhelms Michigan power broker Making a Despicable Scheme Even Worse

Email date: 6/9/13

In this update:
1. Plans for 100% increase in political donation limits exposed
2. Racine baron chafes under campaign contribution limits
3. Budget amendment goes after journalism center
4. Wisconsin voucher expansion underwhelms Michigan power broker

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Plans for 100% increase in political donation limits exposed
Brace yourself. Extreme anti-democracy legislation making it harder to vote and easier for lobbyists and special interest groups to influence Wisconsin elections that took a drubbing at a public hearing this week may yet be made even more outlandish. Drafting instructions obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reveal that the bill’s authors originally sought to include language doubling current campaign contribution limits, eliminating the $10,000 annual limit on total donations, and allowing corporate contributions to political parties.

These radical changes to longstanding anti-corruption laws have been removed for the time being from the Republican-supported bill that is to get a committee vote next week. But it’s been made clear that there may be a future effort to reinsert them or pass them as separate legislation.

State Democratic Party head Mike Tate told the Journal Sentinel he favors relaxing contribution limits, arguing that such changes might create greater transparency by allowing donors to give larger amounts directly to candidates and parties rather than funneling the money to outside interest groups that sponsor their own campaign advertising.

Tate’s theory is demonstrably wrong. Wisconsin has very recent direct experience with elections conducted with relaxed contribution limits. In the 15 recall elections held in 2011 and 2012, there were no limits on the size of donations to the officials targeted for recall. More than $137 million was spent on those elections, and nearly $76 million of that total was spent by outside interest groups on their own attack ads. Not only was the fundraising and spending by these smear groups not hindered by the fact that wealthy donors could give unlimited amounts directly to the targeted officials, but transparency was not enhanced either. More than $49 million raised and spent in the recall elections could not be traced to specific donors.

Tate also told the newspaper that the Democracy Campaign’s reform ideas would make the system “a thousand times worse.”

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Racine baron chafes under campaign contribution limits
A captain of industry from Racine is no fan of Wisconsin’s existing $10,000 limit on campaign contributions, and is going to court in an attempt to get the law thrown out. Despite feeling confined by state law, Koch brothers ally Fred Young managed to give $49,250 to 15 different candidates for state office for 2012 elections alone, including $33,250 to Governor Scott Walker. Young also gave $20,000 to Wisconsin Club for Growth in 2011 and has given the group $113,000 since 2000. He has given candidates for state office in Wisconsin $87,600 since 2000.

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Budget amendment goes after journalism center
Buried deep in the budget plan adopted by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee this week is a double-barreled attack on both press freedom and academic freedom. The attempt to throw the independent Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism off the UW-Madison campus and prohibit UW employees from having anything to do with the center is being roundly condemned by the media and even is being ridiculed by right-wing Milwaukee talk show host Charlie Sykes.

According to media accounts, apparently one of the stories told by WCIJ that struck a nerve with those in charge of the budget committee was one about the flow of campaign money from interests pushing private school vouchers that cites Democracy Campaign findings.

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Wisconsin voucher expansion underwhelms Michigan power broker
The Joint Finance Committee’s insertion of a plan to expand the private school voucher program statewide is drawing fire from both opponents and supporters of vouchers. So who issues a statement and is quoted prominently about how the expansion doesn’t go far enough? None other than former Michigan Republican Party chair Betsy DeVos, whose family is behind the national pro-voucher group American Federation for Children.

By the way, Betsy DeVos and her husband Dick have contributed more than $337,000 to Wisconsin politicians, including more than $250,000 to Governor Walker.