Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Making Voters Blind And Making Crime Pay

Chapter 11 of Wisconsin’s state laws begins with a declaration of policy. It says the "legislature finds and declares that our democratic system of government can be maintained only if the electorate is informed." It goes on to say that one of the "most important sources of information to the voters is available through the campaign finance reporting system."

The legislature's declaration continues: "When the true source of support or extent of support is not fully disclosed . . . the democratic process is subjected to a potential corrupting influence." And it concludes that "the state has a compelling interest in designing a system for fully disclosing contributions."

Legislation introduced by the Senate's assistant majority leader does violence to the public purpose so eloquently articulated by the predecessors to today's legislators by radically limiting campaign finance transparency.

This bill would do two things, both of which are dangerous and destructive to the public interest. First, this legislation would blind the public to the financial interests of most campaign donors. Current law requires the disclosure of both the occupation and employer of any donor giving more than $100. Senate Bill 282 requires disclosure of only the occupation of donors giving over $500.

Since 1996, the Democracy Campaign has enabled the public to follow the money in Wisconsin politics by managing a searchable online donor database. There are 862,064 contributions from individuals in our database. Of those donations, 825,827 or 96% are $500 or less. Contributions of more than $500 total 36,237. If SB 282 had been state law when we launched this money tracking system back in 1996, the database would be 96% smaller and would show the occupation but not the employer of each of the donors who made those 36,237 contributions.

The second thing SB 282 would do is hinder law enforcement and make criminal activity easier. In recent years Wisconsin has seen two wealthy campaign contributors – one a major Democratic donor and the other a major Republican supporter – convicted of money laundering. In both instances, the Democracy Campaign was contacted by law enforcement officials who asked for our assistance in identifying employees of their companies who made campaign donations. If SB 282 is enacted, such investigations would be next to impossible.

SB 282 should be dumped and lawmakers instead should go in exactly the opposite direction, strengthening rather than weakening disclosure laws by approving the bipartisan Senate Bill 166 authored by Republican Mike Ellis and Democrat Jon Erpenbach.


Anonymous said...

If a legislator is being lobbied, the first thing they'll understandably want to know is who is the person lobbying them and for what/whom are they lobbying? Similarly, citizens need to know who is donating to their legislators (and how much), and for what/whom. What's fair is fair.

Daniel Murphy said...

How have we arrived at a place where one side insists on having no rules to govern from a standpoint of basic collegial fairness? How is it 'common sense' has been relegated to status of 'outlier'? How do Republicans pretend to offer integrity when their actions: purposely deny us crucial access to information?!