Wisconsin Organizations Push for Election Transparency

A coalition of Wisconsin organizations, including the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), have asked state legislators to hold hearings on the need for greater transparency and accountability for political spending in Wisconsin. This call comes in the aftermath of a series of recall elections that saw over $100 million poured into the state, much of it from special interest groups that did not disclose their donors.

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"While candidates, interest groups, and campaigns have spent more than $100 million in recall elections over the past year, the public has largely been left in the dark about who is behind these unprecedented campaign contributions and expenditures, and therefore, what they are doing to our democracy," the letter states.

After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down limits on so-called "independent" political spending by corporations and unions in the landmark 2010 decision Citizens United v. F.E.C., a flood of money from special interest groups have had a heightened influence over federal and state elections. "Because of Citizens United we cannot at this time prevent unlimited spending in our state elections, but we can enact new disclosure laws shining light on that spending," the letter says.

Currently, Wisconsin's disclosure laws are like swiss cheese, allowing a variety of corporations to spend millions influencing state elections without telling the people of Wisconsin who is behind them.

"We also can shore up existing limits on campaign contributions directly to candidates by closing obscure loopholes allowing those limits to be circumvented," the letter continues. "And we can give individual citizens a say over how their money is used for political campaigning."

The state's recall statute includes a bizarre provision that allows a candidate facing recall to accept unlimited campaign contributions, without regard for the campaign finance laws that limit individual donations. In the 2012 recall election, this meant Walker could receive checks for $100,000, $250,000, and $500,000 -- for a total of $37 million -- while his opponents had to abide by a $10,000 contribution cap.

CMD, along with WisPIRG, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, and a variety of other organizations are asking the legislature to confront these and other issues to promote transparency and accountability in Wisconsin elections.

In addition to asking for new disclosure laws and closing the "loophole" allowing public officials facing recall to engage in unlimited campaign fundraising, the organizations are requesting legislation to do the following:

  • Require corporations to notify and get permission from shareholders in order to use their money for election spending.
  • Require that television, radio, and newspaper outlets keep an online public record of advertising time purchased for electioneering purposes.
  • Create an independent, nonpartisan redistricting authority to draw new legislative and congressional boundaries after each census.

Final figures for the gubernatorial election are expected in late July, and are expected to surpass $75 million. Before this election, the highest amount spent on any race for a state office was $37 million.