This morning, state legislators and advocates announced a new “Campaign Integrity package.” The package includes seven bills which aim to reduce the influence of campaign donors and make campaign finance more transparent.
State Senator Chris Larson, a Democrat from Milwaukee, says that money has played an increasing role in Wisconsin’s legislative elections in the past decade, after restrictions were weakened by the U.S. Supreme Court and the state legislature.
“With the Citizens United decision and greatly weakened campaign finance laws, that mudslide of special interest money has gotten worse in Wisconsin. The numbers tell the story: from 2010 to 2014, only 16.7% of campaign contributions came from PACs. Fast forward from 2016 to 2020, this amount had risen to 57.8%. This is a shift of millions of special interest dollars, loudly changing what we see and hear about the candidates and their campaigns,” says Larson.
One major piece of legislation from the package, the Campaign Contribution Limits Act, would cut individual contribution limits in half for statewide elections, and cut Political Action Committee — or PAC — contribution limits in half for statewide and local elections.
State Senator Melissa Agard, a Democrat from Madison, says that bill is especially important.
“It would also decrease individual donation limits from $20,000 to $10,000 for statewide offices. For some context, the most that you can give [to a presidential candidate] is $2,700 but our state limits are ludicrously high, and this needs to be addressed,” says Agard.
Some of the package’s bills are meant to increase transparency. The Contribution Sunshine Act would require donors of more than $100 to disclose where they work. This would make it more difficult for employers to get away with pressuring employees to donate to campaigns. Other bills would require more disclosure of mass communications spending, such as TV ads, or limit the size of coordinated campaign spending.
While the package focuses on statewide campaign reform, it includes a resolution targeting the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United decision. In the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court held that political donations were protected by the first amendment as free speech, making it harder to regulate campaign finance.
If passed, the resolution would put a referendum on the November 2022 ballot. That would allow voters to say whether or not they support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.
That amendment would establish that constitutional rights apply only to people, not corporations, and that money is not equivalent to speech. This would be a state referendum, so it’s non-binding and can’t change the U.S. Constitution, but it would show how much the Wisconsin public wants their representatives to propose and ratify such an amendment.
The bills in the “Campaign Integrity package” are currently circulating for co-sponsorship until August 17th. So far, none of the seven bills have any Republican co-sponsors, so it’s unlikely that they will make it through the Republican-controlled state legislature.
Reporting for WORT news, I’m Seeger Gray.
PHOTO: Seeger Gray / WORT News