State Senators Consider Changes To Campaign Money Rules

Concern Over Free Speech, Excess Political Influence

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Photo: marsmet531 (CC-BY-NC-SA)

State senators heard conflicting testimony Wednesday on two campaign finance bills. Supporters say the bills only codify existing rules for disclosing contributions, but opponents say they will make it easier for large contributors to remain anonymous.

Lisa Subeck of the liberal group United Wisconsin says the bills redefine and narrow the definition of what can be considered election-related speech. She says it will ensure that groups that fund what are known as “issue ads” — ones that don’t expressly call for electing or defeating a candidate — can continue to keep their funders secret.

“Citizens should have a right to know who is spending money to affect our elections and whose voices are, quite frankly, drowning out the voices of ordinary citizens in our electoral system,” Subeck said. “Free speech is an absolute right, but with that right comes responsibility, and anonymity is not a guarantee under our Constitution.”

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Supporters of the bill, however, including Scott Manley of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, say the bill doesn’t change existing law and will not affect the way campaign contributions are regulated.

“To say that this legislation restricts or makes it more difficult to require disclosure is simply not accurate,” Manley said. “Issue advocacy is not subject to disclosure right now, and this bill does not change that.”

Representatives of Wisconsin Right to Life also spoke against the bill, although the group opposes any requirements to disclose funders of issue ads. They asked lawmakers to wait for a ruling on a suit they have filed in federal court to settle the issue once and for all instead of changing the law now. A Senate committee will vote on the bill Thursday and it could reach the floor of the Senate before the end of this session.