Government Accountability Board action on new
disclosure rules for special interest election campaigning
November 11, 2008
In approving new rules requiring special interest groups to fully disclose their electioneering activities and abide by existing state campaign contribution limits, the state Government Accountability Board today struck an important blow for the public’s right to know and helped put the “r” back in free speech.
Candidates for state office in Wisconsin are limited in what they can take in campaign donations from individuals and political action committees, they cannot accept anything from the general treasury of a corporation, labor union or nonprofit group, and they must disclose everything. Thanks to the gaping loophole the GAB voted today to close, special interest groups have been able to take money from anyone, from anywhere and in any amount, and they don’t have to disclose anything. Because so-called “issue ad” groups are operating totally outside the law, they are able to use money from sources that are off limits to candidates and effectively hijack state elections, pushing candidates to the sidelines and doing most all of the talking during campaigns. And even as they overwhelm candidates and increasingly control what voters read, see and hear about state campaigns, these groups are keeping the voters entirely in the dark about how much they are spending to influence elections and where they get the money to pay for all the advertising they are doing.
The new board showed its independence today and acted decisively in the public interest. The new rules the GAB approved represent a reasonable, responsible and measured response to the single most significant pathology that plagues the health of democracy in Wisconsin.
These new rules will have to be reviewed by the Legislature and will almost certainly be legally challenged by opponents of disclosure. The road to this reform will be a long and bumpy one, but the Government Accountability Board demonstrated today that it is willing to make the journey. We applaud today’s action and are more confident than ever that the public’s right to know who is seeking to influence our elections and the citizenry’s interest in safeguarding the democratic process against corruption will prevail in the end.