Posted: July 24, 2006
TO: Members of the State Elections Board
FROM: Mike McCabe, Executive Director, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
SUBJECT: Enforcement of State Limit on Political Action Committee (PAC) Contributions
On behalf of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, I am writing to urge you to take prompt action to enforce the state law limiting the amount of money candidates for state office may accept from special interest political action committees (PACs).
Wisconsin law limits the amount of PAC money candidates for governor may take to $485,000 in a four-year election cycle. Congressman Mark Green has transferred $1.3 million he raised as a member of Congress – including $511,405 in PAC donations – from his federal campaign account to the state account he established to finance his bid for governor. He also has raised another $156,140 from PACs since launching his state campaign, bringing his total PAC contributions to $667,545. That is $182,545 over the legal limit in state law.
The Green campaign is operating under the assumption that the $511,405 in PAC money transferred in from the congressman’s federal account does not count toward the state limit and that he therefore still can raise another $485,000 from PACs over and above what he moved from his federal campaign fund.
The problem with this assumption is that it is not consistent with the plain meaning of the state law limiting PAC donations, nor does it comply with the following emergency rule adopted by the Elections Board at its meeting on January 26, 2005.
ElBd 1.395 Use of funds transferred by a federal campaign committee to a state committee restricted . Funds which have been converted by a federal campaign committee to a Wisconsin state campaign committee may not be used for political purposes in Wisconsin if the contribution of those funds to the federal campaign committee would not have complied with Wisconsin law if the contribution had been made directly to a Wisconsin campaign committee. The state campaign committee shall divest itself of such money in compliance with s.11.26(11), Stats.
The Legislature’s Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules objected to the Elections Board rule on February 9, 2005, but the full Legislature never enacted legislation reversing it before adjourning on July 12 of this year, as it is required to do to nullify a rule. After consulting with attorneys with the Legislative Council, the state Revisor of Statutes office as well as the Elections Board’s legal counsel, we believe the rule remains in effect.
The limit on PAC donations in state law is there to protect the public. Wisconsin citizens have a compelling interest in preventing special interests from having too much influence over elections and elected officials. There is now confusion about how – or even whether – this limit should be enforced. It is imperative that the Elections Board act promptly and decisively to clear up this confusion. We believe you should take immediate steps to ensure that the Green campaign complies with the $485,000 limit on PAC donations. If you are unwilling to do that, you owe the people of Wisconsin an official explanation as to why the limit should not apply in this instance and why Emergency Rule 1.395 will not be enforced.
If the state law limiting PAC donations is not enforced, the Green campaign will be allowed to raise as much as $996,405 – more than twice the legal limit that is supposed to apply to candidates for governor. If the law is not enforced and the state limit on PAC contributions is not respected, not only will the other two candidates for governor be disadvantaged by the resulting double standard on PAC fundraising, but most importantly all citizens of Wisconsin will be harmed as we all will lose yet another piece of what little remains of longstanding protections guarding against special interest ownership of our state government.