Dark money nonprofits spent hundreds of millions in the 2012 elections, but reported only a fraction of that thanks to an "issue advocacy" loophole that requires only limited disclosure for ads that don't explicitly urge viewers to vote for or against a candidate. Federal and state elections officials have rarely probed whether a group's so-called "issue ads" are really intended to influence elections -- but in Wisconsin, a politically-active nonprofit exposed its issue ad charade on its own.
What's on the agenda for this week's meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Oklahoma City?
Hard to say.
Despite ALEC trying to spin itself as a "transparent" organization, ALEC records have miraculously been disappearing from legislative offices and the organization is engaged in a dropbox dodge to avoid disclosure. But while ALEC legislators are meeting behind closed doors with corporate lobbyists, citizens will be rallying in the streets raising awareness about how ALEC's agenda favors large corporations at the expense of average Americans.
New federal court filings allege that hundreds of thousands of Republican redistricting files in Wisconsin were deleted last year, in defiance of court orders to turn over all documents. The deletions fit into a pattern of the Wisconsin GOP covering their tracks and could result in sanctions for the attorneys or individuals involved in deleting the files.
By Brendan Fischer and Mary Bottari
In a victory for working families, New York is poised to become the largest U.S. city to require businesses offer paid sick days to workers. Community activists and labor leaders struck a deal with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to allow a vote on a paid sick leave ordinance that would cover almost 1 million people. But workers in more than 700 other large American cities must choose between spreading their illness and getting paid.
Voters in Madison and Milwaukee have reaffirmed the state's Election Day registration law, with an overwhelming majority supporting the practice in two advisory referendums on Tuesday's ballot. Allowing voters to register on Election Day has helped Wisconsin achieve one of the highest voter turnout rates in the country -- but some state Republicans have proposed rolling back the state's highly successful law.
Ten months after beating back a recall, Governor Scott Walker continues to divide Wisconsin, with his shadow hanging over judicial races in Milwaukee, Ozaukee, and Dane Counties. Those normally sleepy races are also attracting new levels of outside money, and demonstrate how Walker remains a polarizing figure in the state even as he mulls a run for president.
"If Wisconsin were not known as the Dairy State it could be known, and rightfully so, as the Sunshine State," the Wisconsin Supreme Court observed in 2010. "All branches of Wisconsin government have, over many years, kept a strong commitment to transparent government."
But just in time for Sunshine Week 2013, GOP leaders in the state are showing how they are failing that proud tradition.
Wisconsin State Senator Glenn Grothman, who made headlines in December for an unprovoked attack on Kwanzaa, has set his sights on another imagined enemy: renewable energy standards. Although Sen. Grothman's latest move is just as ridiculous as his past efforts, this one is part of a national effort backed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Heartland Institute.
Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board estimates that ending Wisconsin's highly successful Election Day registration program could cost $14.5 million -- a calculation that Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) is calling "highly suspect." Republicans in the state are advocating for an end to the practice as part of a partisan national effort to narrow access to the ballot box, and Vos' statement on the cost estimate fits into a pattern of rejecting evidence that doesn't fit a pre-determined narrative on voting practices.
The GOP's partisan redistricting process has come under renewed scrutiny in recent months, with gerrymandered maps helping Republicans hold Congress despite receiving fewer votes than Democrats, and state legislators discussing plans to rig the presidential election by awarding electoral votes according to those contorted boundaries. But out of all the states re-drawing Congressional boundaries along partisan lines after the 2010 elections, Wisconsin's gerrymandering may have been the most egregious.