Wisconsin law limits the amount of money candidates for governor can take from special interest political action committees (PACs) to $485,000 in a four-year election cycle. When Green Bay-area Republican Congressman Mark Green decided to run for governor, he wanted to transfer $1.3 million he raised as a member of Congress from his federal campaign account to a state account to help finance his bid for governor.
The Democracy Campaign has long opposed allowing federal office holders to use money raised for federal campaigns in order to run for state office. We opposed Democrat Tom Barrett's transfer of money he raised as a member of Congress to help finance his 2002 run for the state's highest office. It was wrong when Barrett did it, and it's wrong for Green to do it.
Such transfers will not be allowed after 2006 because a rule pushed by the Democracy Campaign was adopted by the state Elections Board last year outlawing the practice for future races, but the board grandfathered Green's plans to use funds from his federal campaign in this year's gubernatorial race. But while the Elections Board blessed a Green transfer, it also ruled that any federal money he uses for his state campaign must comply with state contribution limits and other state campaign finance laws.
The Legislature's Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules objected to the Elections Board rule, but the full Legislature never enacted legislation reversing it before adjourning on July 12, as it is required to do to nullify a rule. After consulting with attorneys with the Legislative Council, the state Revisor of Statutes office and the Elections Board, we believe the rule remains in effect.
The state limit on PAC contributions to a candidate for governor is $485,000. Green transferred $511,405 in PAC donations from his federal account to the state account he's using to fuel his campaign for governor. He also has raised another $156,140 from PACs since launching his state campaign, bringing his total PAC contributions to $667,545. That's $182,545 over the legal limit in state law.
The limit on PAC donations in state law is there for a good reason – to protect the public. The public has a compelling interest in preventing special interests from having too much influence over elections and elected officials. The Green campaign is operating under the assumption that the $511,000 in PAC money transferred in from the congressman's federal account does not count toward the state limit. Green believes he still can raise $485,000 from PACs over and above what he moved from his federal campaign fund. If the law is not enforced and Mark Green is allowed to operate as he sees fit, he will be allowed to take just shy of $1 million in PAC money from special interest groups.
The first casualty of Green's maneuver was Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, who for a time was a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor. Green's federal money gave him such a fundraising advantage that Walker pulled out, saying he could not raise enough money to compete.
Think about it. This race was too rich for Scott Walker's blood. If someone as well-known, well-connected and well-heeled as Walker can't afford to compete, then who can?
Scott Walker is the proverbial canary in a coal mine. His withdrawal was a warning of how toxic to our democracy the campaign money chase has become.
Walker was the first casualty of Green's money shifting. If the law is not enforced and the state limit on PAC contributions is not respected, the next casualty will be what little remains of longstanding protections guarding against special interest ownership of our state government.