, , ,

Wisconsin Democrats Propose Tougher Campaign Finance Laws

Bills Would Keep Corporate Money Out of PACs, Limit Contributions To Candidates

The Wisconsin Capitol reflected in an office window
Steve Brown & John Verkleir (CC-BY)

A group of Democratic state lawmakers has introduced a package of bills to tighten Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws.

Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, has proposed eight measures in his “Campaign Integrity” package. Among several changes, the legislation would keep corporate money out of political action committees and expand the state’s definition of a PAC. It would also lower campaign contribution limits for committees and individuals.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Jay Heck, director of the advocacy group Common Cause Wisconsin, said the bills would reinstate Wisconsin’s tough stance on campaign finance.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

“Twenty years ago, it would have been inconceivable to hold a press conference like this to talk about reforms, great reforms that Sen. Larson and others are putting forward today, because most of them were the current law back then,” said Heck.

Heck said Republican reforms to the state’s laws around campaign finance in 2015 weakened the state’s previous protections.

But Rick Esenberg from the conservative legal group Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty said the proposal would have a negative impact on individuals’ rights to express their opinion.

“Issue advocacy is an important safety valve. It lets people be heard in a less restricted or unrestricted way during an election season,” Esenberg said.

Esenberg said the proposal would also hurt donor privacy, through a bill that would require committees to disclose the employer and occupation of individuals who contribute more than $100.

People act as if disclosure is sort of a meaningless thing but there are a lot of people who they want to participate in the political process but they don’t necessarily want to have their name associated with it,” Esenberg said.

With record GOP majorities in the state Assembly and Senate, the Democratic reform package faces an uphill battle.