Revised Bill Allows Online Voter Registration, Larger Campaign Donations

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A bill passed out of committee today that lets residents register to vote online and allows politicians to raise more from campaign donors.

About a week ago, Democrats were calling this sweeping bill an assault on democracy. Today, three of them joined five Republicans in voting for it in committee, albeit with some major changes.

Gone from the bill is a controversial provision that would have created a new voter ID law while the current one is tied up in court, as well as another that would have restricted early voting. Added to the bill is a proposal by Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, that would let people register to vote online if have a state-issued ID or driver’s license.

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Berceau thinks people expect it.

“It’s trending nationally. It is something many states have gone to or are proposing, and I don’t think it’s really become as partisan an issue as it used to be because I think both parties recognize that this is the way people are doing their business.”

Also receiving the blessing of both parties were increased contribution limits for state office. The Government Accountability Board says this would be the first time they’ve been raised since 1974.

All limits would double. Individual donors could now give $1,000 dollars to state Assembly candidates, $2,000 to candidates for Senate and $20,000 to candidates for governor. Because all the donations that flow to candidates are reported publicly, Rep. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, says this will lead to greater transparency.

“As long as you know where the money is coming from, as far as a constituent is concerned I think they want to know who’s funding your campaign, why they’re funding your campaign and that sort of thing.”

Jay Heck with the government watchdog group Common Cause applauded many of the changes, but said he doesn’t hear members of the public clamoring for more money in politics. Heck called this a missed opportunity to require more disclosure from third-party groups that largely escape regulation right now.

“I think we’re just going to see much more money of all kinds, both campaign contributions as well as dark money.”

While some of the more controversial pieces of this bill were set aside, they might not be there for long. Rep. Bernier says they could come back in a separate bill later this year.

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