Lawmakers Hear Testimony On State’s Campaign Laws

Campaign Finance Experts Say That Laws Need To Undergo Revision

Sonimi (CC-BY)

Experts told state lawmakers on Tuesday that Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws are long overdue for a rewrite.

Among those suggesting a rewrite was Madison Attorney Mike Wittenwyler, who said Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws, known in the statute books as “Chapter 11,” are a confusing mess.

“Don’t sit and edit Chapter 11. Don’t sit and tweak things. Rewrite the damn things,” he said.

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Wittenwyler said Wisconsin’s laws needed to be more clear in defining “independent speech” so they don’t prevent independent groups from interacting with candidates. But Wittenwyler said the state should still prohibit some kinds of coordination between interest groups and candidates.

“What is left is something you all know you shouldn’t be doing, and that’s requesting or suggesting to independent groups to do something on your behalf,” he said.

Wittenwyler said that would include a candidate telling an interest group to run ads on their behalf.

Several experts told lawmakers that Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws had not kept up with the times, including contribution limits for candidates and parties, which were written in the 1970s in response to the Watergate Scandal.

Matt Rothschild of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign said there were already ample examples in state law where big donations had created an appearance of corruption to the public.

“I urge you not to further undermine our democracy, to pollute our system even worse than it is now,” said Rothschild. “Do not hustle us down the dangerous road to plutocracy.”

Rothschild said there was still a place for the state to regulate contributions to political parties. Those limits were struck down last year by U.S. Judge Rudolph Randa, paving the way for two major donors to each give a million dollars to the state Republican and Democratic parties.