Groups Want "Bribery" Redefined by State


A coalition of groups wants to re-frame the debate over regulating campaigns in Wisconsin by redefining the crime of “bribery” in state law.

The plan being pushed by Citizen Action of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and other groups would tweak the state’s gift ban law. The gift ban is strict when it comes to public officials accepting “anything of value” in Wisconsin, if it could reasonably be considered as a reward for influencing the official’s vote. However, the law creates a specific exemption for political contributions.

Citizen Action Wisconsin’s Robert Kraig says there needs to be a way to expand the law to cover campaign donations without effectively banning them altogether. “Over 100 years ago we banned actual bribery, the traditional $100 in a paper bag. We have a government with a tradition of cleanness, where you can’t even buy a lunch for a legislator without it violating the gift ban because it would unduly influence that legislator. But, there’s no limitation on–you know, you can give very large campaign contributions, get something in return, or large independent expenditures, and it’s not considered bribery.”

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Kraig insists it is not a partisan idea, since when polled, both conservatives and liberals believe the government is no longer working for them as much as it is working for special interests.

The groups would also rewrite Wisconsin’s conflict of interest laws to prevent people who received large contributions from political donors from taking votes on issues that would affect them.