Vos and Fitzgerald Made Corruption Easier

February 14, 2019

by Matthew Rothschild, Executive Director

(These are Matt Rothschild’s prepared remarks for today’s press conference with Sen. Chris Larson in the Senate Parlor.)

I’m Matt Rothschild, the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, and a member of the Money Out, Voters in coalition in Wisconsin, which includes Blue Jean Nation, Our Wisconsin Revolution, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Wisconsin United to Amend, and WisPIRG.

Common Cause in Wisconsin also endorses these bills, as does Wisconsin Voices, a coalition of 63 Wisconsin progressive nonprofits. And the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, while not having time to examine all these bills, agrees that we need much more disclosure and much less money in our politics.

So, as you can see, there is immense support in the nonprofit sector for Sen. Larson’s efforts, and we commend him for his leadership. And we commend Representative Sargent for her leadership on this issue in the Assembly. And we commend the other lead sponsors and co-sponsors who are with us today.

Let’s be clear: The reason this package is so urgently needed is because the GOP leadership in 2015 made a hash out of our old campaign finance law and made it all the easier for the super-wealthy and for the powerful corporations to have more say so than ever before -- and with less disclosure.

Robin Vos and Scott Fitzgerald drastically rewrote our campaign finance law. For instance, they let corporations, for the first time in more than 100 years, give directly to political parties and legislative campaign committees. And last year, corporations shelled out $1.7 million to them. One of the biggest corporate donors was Altria, aka Philip Morris, which donated almost $40,000 – and spread it around to both sides.

And Vos and Fitzgerald made it easy for more corruption to creep in.

To illustrate this, assume for a second than I’m running for governor and I’ve got a billionaire friend.

The 2015 law said my friend could now give my campaign double what the old amount was. That old amount was $10,000, which was bad enough. But $20,000? Rich and poor alike in Wisconsin can now give $20,000 to their favorite candidate for governor!

But it gets worse.

The 2015 law also said that my friend could give an unlimited amount of money to political parties, whereas there used to be a $10,000 aggregate limit on what he could give. So now I tell my friend to shell out $2 million to my political party, which promptly turns around and gives my campaign that $2 million.

And the 2015 law said that I can coordinate my campaign activities with so-called “issue advocacy” groups. So now I tell my friend to give another $2 million to this new group I set up, with the cutesy name Badgers for Eternal Victory. And my friend obliges, and gives BEV the $2 million. And I go tell BEV what ads to run all over the state. I even give BEV the script, and the list of stations. And the kicker is, BEV doesn’t have to disclose that my billionaire friend gave her a dime.

So my friend has now basically given my campaign not the $10,000 that he used to be limited to, and not the $20,000 in direct contributions that the 2015 law allowed. But, in essence, $4,020,000. Two million of which we’ll never know about.

That’s crazy!

The U.S. Supreme Court, even in Citizens United, said we should limit the amount that individuals can give to candidates because it’s corrupting. And the U.S. Supreme Court, in Buckley v. Valeo, said that donations to a group you’re coordinating with should be considered donations to your own campaign. But that’s not how the 2015 law treats them.

The 2015 law is an open invitation to corruption, and the wealthy and the corporations promptly and gladly accepted it.

Sen. Larson’s bills will rescind that invitation -- and not a moment too soon.