Overturn Citizens United - Join the national movement to help overturn the disastrous U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC (2010), which stated that corporations and other groups can spend unlimited amounts of money to support (or trash) specific candidates. Nineteen states are already on board for amending the U.S. Constitution to proclaim that corporations aren’t persons and money isn’t speech. Let’s bring Wisconsin on board, too. Contact your legislators and urge them to support 2017 Senate Joint Resolution 54/Assembly Joint Resolution 53, calling for such a statewide referendum. Read more here. And urge your community to pass a resolution in favor of this constitutional amendment, as more than 110 communities in Wisconsin have already done. Read more about these local efforts here.
Limit Donations - The disastrous rewrite of Wisconsin’s campaign finance law in 2015 doubled the amount of money that (rich) people could give directly to candidates. Now, if you can afford it, you can write a check for $20,000 to your favorite candidate for governor, lieutenant governor, Wisconsin Supreme Court, secretary of state, state treasurer, attorney general, and superintendent of public instruction. This is a ludicrously high limit and it’s totally out of whack with federal limits. For instance, the most you can give to a candidate for President of the United States is $2,700. We need to impose a much lower ceiling on individual gifts, so that everyone can participate and have their voices heard. And at a bare minimum, Wisconsin should revert to its old limits. Contact and tell your legislators to support SB353 / AB447, which would reestablish those old limits.
Ban Corporate Donations - The 2015 campaign finance law, for the first time in more than 100 years, also allowed corporations and other entities to give directly to political parties and legislative campaign committees. Already, big businesses and other groups have taken advantage of this open door for bribery. Contact and tell your legislators to support SB357 /AB459, which would ban all such donations.
Require Disclosure of Donor’s Employer - The 2015 campaign finance law erased the requirement that candidate committees list the name of their donors’ employers. This makes it much more difficult for the media and the public to know whether employees of a specific company are all giving to a candidate in the expectation that their candidate will do the company a favor if that candidate wins. Contact and tell your legislators to support SB358 /AB460, which would require all candidate committees to list the employer of anyone who gives more than $100.
Require Disclosure by Dark Money Groups - During elections season, dark money groups are splattering our screens with mud, and we ought to know who is paying for that mud so that we can figure out what they are trying to gain by doing so. Any so-called “issue advocacy group,” which, within 60 days of an election, is running an ad that mentions a specific candidate and is designed to sway voters, should have to tell us where they’re getting their money from. Contact and tell your legislators to support SB375 / AB472, which would do just that.
Restrict Coordination between Candidates and Outside Groups - The 2015 election law permits coordination between candidates and “issue advocacy” groups. This makes a mockery of the limits on individual donations and on the requirement that donations be disclosed. For instance, if I’m running for governor, and I have a billionaire friend, I’m going to tell that friend that I don’t even want his $20,000 direct donation, which my campaign committee would have to disclose. No, I’ve got a better idea. I’d tell my friend to give a $2 million donation to some bogus “issue advocacy” group with a benign name, like Badgers for Eternal Victory (BEV). And I’d then tell BEV what ads to run and where to run them, so it would be just as if my billionaire friend gave my campaign the $2 million, which is 100 times the legal limit. And the kicker is, no one would ever know about it because BEV doesn’t have to disclose the donation.
While the Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled, in a corrupt and pathetically reasoned decision, that the First Amendment prohibits the State of Wisconsin from banning coordination between candidates and “issue advocacy” groups, there is no reason why the State of Wisconsin can’t limit the amount of money that individuals can give to those “issue advocacy” groups if those groups are engaging in electioneering. SB356 would impose such limits.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court did, however, impose a ban on coordination between candidates and express advocacy groups (those that say “vote for” or “vote against” a candidate). But in the 2015 rewrite of our campaign finance, the legislature defined coordination in such a way as to make it virtually impossible to prove such coordination. For instance, it says that the candidate or the candidate’s agent must “specifically request” that the express advocacy group do something, and the group itself must “explicitly assent” to the request. So the candidate could discuss strategy with the express advocacy group, and strongly suggest that the group to do something for the candidate, and all that’s OK under existing law. It all can be done with an elbow and a wink.
SB356 would tighten the definition of coordination to prohibit such collusion.
Empower Small Donors - To give voters of modest means the ability to have their voices heard in the campaign finance arena, cities like New York and Seattle are empowering their small donors. In New York City, for instance, anyone who gives $175 to the municipal candidate of their choice has their donation multiplied by six times by public funds. In Seattle, citizens are given four $25 vouchers to spend on local candidates.
We can do the same in Wisconsin in the following way by matching small donations to participating candidates. For donations up to $50, there would be a $4 match for every $1 donated. And for donations over $50 and up to $100, there would be a $3 match for every $1 donated.
Call your legislators and encourage them to adopt a reasonable bill like 2013 AB353.
Full Public Financing of Elections- Ultimately, the answer to the problems of political corruption and the drowning out of most citizens’ voices is to provide full public financing for all elections, top to bottom, while at the same time imposing limits on outside spending and requiring full disclosure by those outside groups. Our elections should not be auctions where the richest people can buy the candidates. And billionaires should not be able to buy candidates as they do horses for the Kentucky Derby. Democracy requires a clean, open, and level playing field, and other democracies have solved this problem by providing full public financing of elections. We can too.
Call your legislators and encourage them adopt a reasonable bill like 2011 AB642 and to rein in special interest money in Wisconsin elections and to make people matter than money. Also remind them that public financing is still unconstitutional.