July 12, 2002
Legislative leaders included a requirement in the bill that special interest groups must report planned independent campaign activities 30 days before an election, a provision that WDC executive director Mike McCabe says unnecessarily exposes the plan to the risk of being overturned in court.
Legislators who crafted the plan also made it completely "nonseverable" - meaning if any one provision is found unconstitutional the entire law is void. Coupled with the prior reporting requirement, the nonseverability clause makes it likely that none of the reforms included in the plan will ever be allowed to take effect, McCabe said.
In a letter to Governor McCallum, McCabe called the nonseverability clause and the prior reporting requirement a "poison pill" and urged a partial veto of both. Without such action by the governor, "the public cannot be expected to see the enactment of this reform plan as anything but a cynical election-year ploy by elected officials who want to be able to claim they've reformed Wisconsin’s broken campaign finance system while remaining safe in the knowledge the reforms will never be allowed to take effect," McCabe wrote.
A veto of the prior reporting provision would leave in place disclosure provisions imposing registration and financial reporting requirements on "issue ad" groups as well as required reporting within 24 hours of all disbursements and obligations by groups independently advocating the election or defeat of a candidate within 60 days of an election. This would mirror the disclosure provisions in the "Voters First" campaign reform plan developed by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and supported by 46 other public interest groups.
In his letter to the governor, McCabe noted other weaknesses in the campaign reform plan in the budget bill, including a $20 income tax checkoff that does not provide a guaranteed source of funding for the new system. He also cited as weaknesses the delayed effective date of the act - July 1, 2003 - and a provision that would funnel funds for matching grants for candidates through the political parties. But despite these weaknesses, the new system would be a vast improvement over the current broken system, he wrote.
July 12, 2002
Governor Scott McCallum
115 East, State Capitol
Madison, WI 53702
Dear Governor McCallum:
On behalf of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, I write to urge you to use your partial veto authority to make improvements in the campaign finance reform plan included in the budget repair bill passed by the legislature.
We are greatly concerned about provisions in the bill relating to advance reporting of planned activities by groups involved in independently advocating the election or defeat of candidates for statewide or legislative office. Such groups are required under the bill to file a report 30 days before the election naming each candidate who is supported or opposed, the total amount to be spent or the obligations to be incurred. We believe this prior reporting unnecessarily exposes the campaign reform plan to the risk of being overturned in court, especially since the plan also is completely nonseverable - meaning if any one provision is found unconstitutional the entire law is void.
We urge you to use your partial veto to eliminate this poison pill and substantially increase the prospects that the many reforms embodied in this plan could actually take effect. Without such action, the public cannot be expected to see the enactment of this reform plan as anything but a cynical election-year ploy by elected officials who want to be able to claim they've reformed Wisconsin’s broken campaign finance system while remaining safe in the knowledge the reforms will never be allowed to take effect.
Specifically, we urge you to veto the nonseverability clause in the bill which provides that if a court finds any part of the law unconstitutional, then all provisions of the law are void. We also urge you to veto the prior notice provision relating to reporting of independent disbursements that requires special interest committees to file a report on planned activities 30 days before the election. This veto would leave in place the remaining disclosure provisions imposing registration and financial reporting requirements on "issue ad" groups as well as required reporting within 24 hours of all disbursements and obligations exceeding $250 made for the purpose of independently advocating the election or defeat of a candidate beginning 60 days prior to the election.
I understand you may have an agreement with legislative leaders who crafted this plan about your intentions with respect to the use of your partial veto authority. But you must weigh this understanding against the clear public interest in getting meaningful campaign finance reforms in place at the earliest possible date. And you must weigh any agreement you have with legislative leaders against the public’s clear understanding that unless the vetoes we advocate are executed, the campaign finance reforms included in the budget repair bill almost certainly will never be allowed to take effect.
The budget provisions relating to campaign finance reform are far from perfect. The effective date of the act - July 1, 2003 - means lawmakers will be free to operate under the old broken rules as they craft the next state budget. It will be bought and sold just as this one was. We do not believe the source of funding for the new system - a $20 income tax checkoff - will prove sufficient over the long haul. We will continue to fight to get lawmakers to put their money where their mouth is, and provide a guaranteed source of funding that prevents the public financing grants promised in the law from ever being prorated or denied. And we strongly object to the funds for matching grants being routed through the political parties. Candidates should receive the matching funds directly, allowing them to respond to high-spending opponents or attacks from special interest groups regardless of whether they are in the good graces of the party bosses.
Despite its weaknesses, the campaign finance reform plan included in the budget bill nevertheless contains many essential reforms that would represent a vast improvement over our current broken system. But these improvements must be allowed to take effect. We fear that is not possible unless you act in the public interest and exercise your authority to partially veto the nonseverability and prior reporting provisions in this plan.
You have an historic opportunity to strike a blow against the cynical forces who have fought to thwart the public’s desire for campaign finance reform. We hope you will summon the courage to take advantage of this opportunity.