Members From Both Parties & Both Houses Introduce ‘Voters First’ Bill
February 13, 2001
Madison - The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign lauded today’s announcement that a group of legislators from both political parties and both houses of the legislature is coalescing behind the Voters First campaign finance reform legislation.
Attending the press conference at which the Voters First bill was introduced were Senators Brian Burke (D-Milwaukee), Peggy Rosenzweig (R-Wauwatosa), Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) and Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton), and Representatives Steve Freese (R-Dodgeville), Terry Musser (R-Black River Falls), David Travis (D-Madison) and Peter Bock (D-Milwaukee).
"It’s a major breakthrough to have legislators from both sides standing shoulder to shoulder and talking about how to get bipartisan agreement on campaign finance reform," WDC executive director Mike McCabe said. "There hasn’t been a lot of bipartisan cooperation on this issue in the past, so the leadership these legislators are showing is all the more important and all the more impressive. It takes courage to reach across party lines in the current environment, and they all deserve credit for starting a bipartisan dialogue."
McCabe said the proposal now has the support of 42 public interest organizations, more than double the number in the coalition when the initiative was unveiled with the support of 20 groups last July (see list below for current Voters First coalition members).
"Voters First creates a framework for bipartisan compromise by staking out a middle ground between the major partisan reform proposals and by taking ideas from bills offered last session by both Republicans and Democrats," McCabe said.
The following was distributed by legislators attending the press conference.
Madison - At a Capitol press conference this morning, a bipartisan group of legislators from both houses announced they are introducing a comprehensive campaign finance proposal known as "Voters First."
Appearing at the press conference were Senators Brian Burke (D-Milwaukee), Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls), Peggy Rosenzweig (R-Wauwatosa) and Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton), and Representatives Steve Freese (R-Dodgeville), Terry Musser (R-Black River Falls), David Travis (D-Madison) and Peter Bock (D-Milwaukee).
The Voters First plan strikes a bipartisan balance by incorporating provisions from campaign reform bills offered last session by both Republicans and Democrats, including Senate Bill 111 authored by Sen. Burke and Rep. Freese, Senate Bill 113 authored by Sen. Mike Ellis, the Senate-passed SB 190, the Assembly-approved AB 701 and former Governor Tommy Thompson’s Kettl Commission proposal.
Voters First establishes new limits on campaign spending, tightens limits on contributions, requires full and prompt disclosure of all election-related activities, and effectively addresses independent electioneering efforts by special interest groups. Details of the plan.
The plan has the support of over 40 statewide organizations, including the Wisconsin Counties Association, Wisconsin Towns Association, League of Wisconsin Municipalities, Alliance of Cities, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, League of Women Voters, AARP, Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups and Common Cause in Wisconsin. Full list of coalition members.
"For reform to become reality, it has to be bipartisan in spirit and substance," said Sen. Brian Burke. "A number of us have offered sweeping proposals in the past. This builds on the best ideas from each plan, and this is why I think it has the best chance of success."
Burke pointed to the fact that Voters First is the first comprehensive reform proposal to have bipartisan and bicameral sponsorship as well as broad support from a wide array of public interest groups.
Sen. Peggy Rosenzweig said she’s heartened by the willingness of legislators on both sides and in both houses to participate in a bipartisan dialogue on such a tough issue.
"In the past, the debate on this issue has been marked by partisanship and one-upsmanship, and it’s gotten us nowhere. I'm impressed that colleagues on both sides are willing to set a new tone for the session with this bipartisan initiative," Rosenzweig said.
Rep. Freese echoed Rosenzweig’s sentiments. "It’s safe to say that none of us would write this bill on our own. It’s easy to pass partisan legislation that puts one side or the other at an advantage. The really hard job is to reach across party lines and work together to pass reforms that are truly fair and balanced. The fact that so many of my colleagues are willing to take on this difficult task is a very healthy sign," Rep. Freese said.
"Campaign finance reform is long overdue. However, we can’t get the job done unless both parties come together to compromise, and this bill goes a long way to reach that middle ground," Sen. Sheila Harsdorf said. "For the integrity of our elections, we must limit the role outside special interest groups have in campaigns. This bill and the displayed bipartisan support today sets a bold example to the people that we are serious about reform."
"Our election campaigns have gotten out of control. The system is broken and we need to fix it, This proposal does exactly what the voters said in November that they want us to do. And it does it in a reasonable and balanced way that deserves bipartisan support," Sen. Harsdorf said.
Sen. Erpenbach, whose 1998 race had been the most expensive in state history until it was eclipsed by spending in the 10th Senate District in November, said, "I know what it feels like to have your campaign hijacked. It’s a helpless feeling to lose all control and to essentially become a bystander in your own race. The voters deserve to hear from the candidates, not just the special interests with the deepest pockets."
Rep. Travis expressed optimism about reform’s prospects. "When you can get four-caucus support, that gets your bill traction," he said.
Rep. Bock said Voters First "contains all the essential elements of reform and would cure what ails our sick campaign finance system." He added that "both sides will find some things they will like in the bill and other things they won’t. If we’e going to build bipartisan support for reform, both sides are going to have to get nicked."
"It’s clear the people of Wisconsin want this," Rep. Terry Musser said, citing the voters’ overwhelming approval of the November campaign finance reform referendum. "Our bill should help get the ball rolling toward real campaign finance reform."
The Voters First campaign finance reform plan is introduced with bipartisan sponsors led by Sen. Brian Burke (D-Milwaukee) and Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls). Other legislators pictured above are Sens. Peggy Rosenzweig (R-Wauwatosa), Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) and Reps. Steve Freese (R-Dodgeville), Terry Musser (R-Black River Falls), Dave Travis (D-Madison) and Peter Bock (D-Milwaukee).
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Common Cause in Wisconsin
League of Women Voters of Wisconsin
Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups
Wisconsin Counties Association
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
Center for Public Representation
Wisconsin Homecare Organization
Wisconsin Council on Developmental Disabilities
Wisconsin Council of the Blind
Survival Coalition of Disability Groups
United Cerebral Palsy of Wisconsin
Autism Society of Wisconsin
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
1000 Friends of Wisconsin
The River Alliance
Citizens’ Utility Board
Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin
United Church of Christ’s Social Concerns Commission
Wisconsin Community Action Program Association
Coalition of Independent Living Centers
Mental Health Association - Office of Public Policy
New Transportation Alliance
Progressive Fox Valley
Door County Environmental Council