by Bruce Speight and Mike McCabe
September 11, 2013
Outside the Capitol, citizens of every political stripe believe money is playing far too great a role in elections, is having a poisonous effect on governing, and needs to be reined in.
But a bill already passed by the state Assembly and headed to the Senate this fall takes the position that there is not enough big money in politics and even larger campaign contributions are needed.
Assembly Bill 225 would double contribution limits – increasing individual contribution limits for statewide offices like governor from $10,000 to $20,000; for state Senate from $1,000 to $2,000; and for Assembly from $500 to $1,000 – further drowning out the voices of Wisconsin voters and further concentrating political power in the hands of the few wealthy political donors who can afford to give $20,000 to a candidate for governor.
Some have lauded this bill because it contains a provision to implement an online registration system, but this provision comes nowhere close to making this bill worth passing. When the only candidates on the ballot are those who are able to appeal to large donors, our election system is fundamentally undemocratic.
This bill should be rejected by the state Senate.
Already, wealthy contributors and big money contributions are increasingly drowning out the voices of average voters. Just 32 billionaires and corporations giving an average of $9.9 million apiece matched the money 3.7 million small donors gave to the Romney and Obama campaigns combined for the 2012 presidential election. If money equals speech as the U.S. Supreme Court currently believes, then those 32 megadonors spoke with more than 115,000 times the volume of the millions of small donors.
Rather than opening the floodgates to more big money influence, state leaders could implement systems that protect our democracy by empowering average citizens. For example, we encourage state leaders to support Republican U.S. Representative Tom Petri’s proposal to reinstate a $50 federal tax credit for campaign contributions, a program that would boost public participation in the campaign finance process; the use of matching public funds to encourage state level candidates to depend on small donations from their constituents and not wealthy out-of-state interests; and lowering the donation limit to $100, a level that all citizens – not just the wealthy few – can realistically afford.
In just a few short months earlier this year, over 30 grassroots organizations and over 20,000 Wisconsinites called for a statewide advisory referendum. Introduced in July by a bipartisan group of 35 state legislators, Assembly Joint Resolution 50 would give Wisconsin voters a say on whether lawmakers should support a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United.
Sixteen states, from Montana and Colorado to Maine and Vermont, have weighed in on money in politics and the Citizens United ruling. Supermajorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents are saying this is not the democracy they want. And already in Wisconsin, 20 communities have taken action to support a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United. Rather than increasing contribution limits, state officials should support AJR 50 and let the people decide.
Special interest money has long had a corrosive effect on our politics, but increasing contribution limits will only worsen this problem. Senators should reject AB225 and efforts that concentrate political power in the hands of a wealthy (and shrinking) few, and instead embrace measures that restore the promise of a government of, by and for the people.