WDC Calls the Question on Reform Bill

Citing ‘Leadership Vacuum,’ Reform Group Challenges Statewide Candidates to Take Public Stand on Ellis Proposal

November 27, 2001

Madison - In a letter to the announced candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign today asked for a public commitment of support for the leading campaign finance reform bill awaiting action in the state legislature.

"At no time in recent memory has there been such a crisis of public confidence in the integrity of the political process in Wisconsin. The State Capitol is awash in scandal. Yet for the most part there has been conspicuous silence.from those who are seeking the highest offices" on reform measures, the letter from WDC executive director Mike McCabe says.

The legislation - Senate Bill 104 - authored by Neenah Republican Michael Ellis was approved in July on a bipartisan 4-1 vote by the Senate Judiciary, Consumer Affairs and Campaign Finance Reform Committee. It now awaits action in the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee. SB 104 has the support of the Voters First coalition, an alliance of 47 statewide advocacy groups that includes the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

The letter notes the crusading efforts of U.S. Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold on behalf of campaign reform at the national level, and says the "courageous leadership McCain and Feingold have provided is precisely what has been missing to this point in the campaigns for the highest offices in Wisconsin state government."

The candidates’ responses will be made public by WDC the week of December 10, McCabe said.

In an advisory referendum that appeared on the ballot in 58 counties last November and in Brown County in April, 90 percent of voters voiced support for limits on campaign spending, stricter limits on donations and full disclosure of all election-related activities.

McCabe said SB 104 does what voters overwhelmingly said they want done, but the state’s top political leaders have kept the bill bottled up.

"There is a leadership vacuum at the top," he said. "It’s time for the people who want to lead our state to stand up and be counted. Either they are on the voters’ side or they’re not. They are pledging to run clean campaigns. But are they serious about running a clean government?"


November 27, 2001

TO: Governor Scott McCallum
Attorney General James Doyle
Congressman Tom Barrett
State Senator Gary George
Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk
City of Tomah Mayor Ed Thompson
Lieutenant Governor Margaret Farrow
State Senator Kevin Shibilski
Brown County Executive Nancy Nusbaum
State Senator Brian Burke
Peggy Lautenschlager

FROM: Mike McCabe, Executive Director, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign

SUBJECT: Senate Bill 104

On behalf of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, I write to call on you to publicly take a position on Senate Bill 104, a comprehensive campaign finance reform bill that currently awaits action in the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee. As a candidate for statewide office, you have both a unique opportunity and a special responsibility to provide leadership on the issue of political corruption in state government.

At no time in recent memory has there been such a crisis of public confidence in the integrity of the political process in Wisconsin. The State Capitol is awash in scandal. Media investigations have turned into John Doe probes. Where once only idle rumors of illegal activities circulated, subpoenas are now flying. Yet for the most part there has been conspicuous silence on this subject from those who are seeking the highest offices - those of governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

Senate Bill 104 would:

  • Put an end to the incessant money chase that has so badly compromised elected lawmakers and so badly tarnished Wisconsin’s reputation for clean government. SB 104 limits spending by candidates for governor to $2 million. That is less than a third of the $7.1 million former Governor Thompson spent on his last campaign in 1998. Senate candidates are limited to spending $120,000 and Assembly candidates are limited to $60,000. Candidate spending in the 2000 elections reached a high of $409,279 for a Senate campaign and $211,071 for an Assembly campaign.
  • Give voters meaningful choices and more competitive elections by leveling the playing field for all candidates. Candidates who agree to the spending limits would receive public grants equal to 45% of their campaign costs. Even if candidates who raise the small contributions needed to qualify for a grant did not raise another penny after that, the most they would be outspent would be 2-to-1. That stands in stark contrast to the 14-to-1 fundraising advantage legislative incumbents held heading into the stretch drive of the 2000 campaign.
  • Neuter the independent campaigns run by special interest groups that have increasingly turned candidates into bystanders in their own races. The bill provides matching grants to candidates who limit their spending but have special interest campaigns run against them or who face opponents who refuse to abide by the spending limits. So candidates would have the resources to respond to attacks, and special interests would know that their independent spending will be matched dollar for dollar.
    • Ban fundraising during the state budget process, ending the auctioning of the state budget.

Our analysis of campaign reports shows lawmakers collected a record $1.6 million in campaign donations as they worked on the state budget, nearly double what they took in when they crafted the previous state budget. And much of the money came from special interests who received an array of tax breaks, pork barrel spending and other budget favors worth over $819 million.

  • Abolish the leadership-controlled legislative campaign committees that are at the heart of the caucus scandal. Working hand in hand with the taxpayer-funded partisan caucuses, these committees have played a huge role in concentrating power in the hands of legislative leaders.

Senate Bill 104 is bipartisan. It was approved on a bipartisan 4-1 vote by the Senate Judiciary, Consumer Affairs and Campaign Finance Reform Committee in July, but now languishes in the Joint Finance Committee. SB 104 also has the support of 47 statewide advocacy groups ranging from the League of Women Voters and AARP to the Wisconsin Towns Association and the Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives. This bill has such widespread support because it is sweeping and substantive reform that offers the only realistic hope of bipartisan agreement on reform legislation this session.

So far, only one of you - Senator George - has had occasion to take a public stand on this important legislation, as he chairs the committee that took up the bill and approved it. All of you are seeking a position of statewide political leadership, however, so you all have a responsibility to provide leadership on this critical issue.

When Senator John McCain was campaigning for president, he crusaded for campaign reform - to the point of expending considerable political capital securing promises of support from congressional candidates around the country and then later holding those elected representatives to their word when the McCain-Feingold legislation was being debated. Similarly, Senator Russ Feingold took what many thought was a foolish risk by swearing off soft money in his re-election campaign. He won - barely - but not without putting his career at stake for the sake of his reform cause.

The courageous leadership McCain and Feingold have provided is precisely what has been missing to this point in the campaigns for the highest offices in Wisconsin state government. It is not too late to fill this leadership vacuum, however.

It is time to stand up and be counted. We ask each of you to take a public position on Senate Bill 104 within the next two weeks. We will make your response public on the week of December 10. Feel free to respond by mail, by telephone, by e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or by fax at 608-255-4359.We look forward to receiving your response to our request.

Logo: Voters First!Voters First Coalition

Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Common Cause in Wisconsin
League of Women Voters of Wisconsin
Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups
Wisconsin County Executives and Administrators Association
League of Wisconsin Municipalities
Wisconsin Towns Association
Wisconsin Alliance of Cities
Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators
Wisconsin Council on Children and Families
Wisconsin Coalition for Advocacy
American Association of University Women - WI
National Farmers’ Organization - WI
Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives
Municipal Electric Utilities of Wisconsin
Center for Public Representation
Wisconsin Homecare Organization
Wisconsin Library Association
Wisconsin Council on Developmental Disabilities
Wisconsin Council of the Blind
Survival Coalition of Disability Groups
United Cerebral Palsy of Wisconsin
Autism Society of Wisconsin
American Lung Association - WI
Wisconsin Association of Local Health Directors and Boards
National Association of Social Workers - WI Chapter
Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group
Wisconsin Federation of Teachers
Wisconsin Retired Educators’ Association
Wisconsin’s Environmental Decade
United Council of UW Students
1000 Friends of Wisconsin
The River Alliance
Citizens’ Utility Board
Wisconsin IMPACT
Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin
United Church of Christ’s Social Concerns Commission
Church Women United
Wisconsin Community Action Program Association
Coalition of Independent Living Centers
Mental Health Association - Office of Public Policy
Milwaukee County Commission on Aging
New Transportation Alliance
Progressive Fox Valley
Door County Environmental Council