How the Wisconsin GOP Rewrote the Campaign Law for Its Own Benefit

by Matthew Rothschild, Executive Director

August 30, 2018

Almost three years ago, the Republican leadership in Wisconsin found new ways to give their big donors and their corporate buddies more power to influence our elections and our public policies.

They did so by drastically rewriting Wisconsin’s campaign finance law in November 2015, and the results of that effort are benefitting not only the donors but the Republicans themselves.

J.R. Ross, the editor of WisPolitics, published a revealing story recently that showed the impact that this cleverly crafted law is having.

Under the old Wisconsin law, individuals could not give more than $10,000 total during an election cycle. If you gave a $10,000 donation to Scott Walker, you couldn’t give a dime to any other candidate or to the Republican Party of Wisconsin, for that matter.

In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its McCutcheon decision that aggregate limits like this were unacceptable, so the Wisconsin $10,000 aggregate limit had to go.

But the Wisconsin legislature could easily have put a $10,000 limit on donations to political parties. Instead, it said the sky is the limit.

So now, as Ross noted, donors who max out to Walker are turning around and giving enormous amounts of money to the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

“A check of donations found 29 donors since Jan. 1, 2015, who contributed a combined $3.3 million to the state GOP after maxing out to Walker,” wrote Ross, relying on figures provided to him by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. “More than half of the $3.3 million came from just three donors: Beloit businesswoman Diane Hendricks and Illinois business couple Dick and Elizabeth Uihlein.”

Ross also pointed out that the new law “doesn’t restrict how much parties or legislative campaigns can transfer to candidates, meaning the Republican Party could funnel those six-figure donations to Walker.”

This undermines the whole idea of limiting the size of individual donations to particular candidates. Even the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes that such limits are necessary to prevent corruption.

But those limits are now useless in Wisconsin.

By the way, when they rewrote the campaign finance law, Republicans doubled the amount of money that rich people can give to their favorite candidate for governor: It used to be $10,000 and now it’s $20,000.

For most people, that’s an enormous amount of money. But for billionaires, that’s chicken feed. And if they want to give more to the candidate, it’s easy: Just wire it through the political party.

Here’s what Walker’s richest supporter can now do. He or she can give Walker $20,000 and then turn around and give the Republican Party of Wisconsin $200,000 or $2,000,000. And the Republican Party of Wisconsin can then shovel that right back to Walker, even though it’s 10 times or 100 times the legal limit on direct gifts to candidates.

The political party is now a laundromat. And yes, big donors to Tony Evers can use the Democratic Party the same way, but Republicans have more big donors than Democrats so it helps the Republicans more.

When they rewrote the campaign finance law, Republicans did one other disastrous thing: For the first time in more than 100 years, they let corporations give $12,000 directly to political parties and legislative campaign committees.

Corporations aren’t hesitating at all, and they are favoring the Republicans.

Last year, corporations gave the Republican Party of Wisconsin and the Republican legislative campaign committees about $900,000 while the Democratic groups got only about $134,000 – a near seven-to-one advantage.

Poor Fighting Bob La Follette!

He spent his whole career combating corporate power and the undue influence of the super-rich over our political system.

He must be spinning in his grave so fast today that he’s getting dizzy.