State Senate Rejects Campaign Finance Reform Bill

By: Zac Schultz
By: Zac Schultz

Madison: The Wisconsin State Senate came so close Wednesday to passing what supporters called important campaign reform legislation.

At the beginning of the day both Republicans and Democrats were optimistic about passing Senate Bill 46– campaign finance reform.

"It is a quantum leap from the cesspool we are currently living in," says Sen. Mike Ellis (R-Neenah).

Almost everyone supported a provision that would ban lucrative fundraisers when the Legislature was working on the budget.

But much of the debate centered on a provision dealing with independent issue ads that attack a candidate. Democrats want the groups to disclose where the money is coming from.

"They use the likeness of the candidate, they use the name of the candidate. It's considered a political ad, and they have to disclose where their money is coming from," says Democratic Minority Leader Sen. Judy Robson (D-Beloit).

Co–author Sen. Ellis says disclosure won't fly in the Assembly. "If I put full disclosure in this bill it's dead on arrival in the other house."

The provision would also create a public fund of money, and if a candidate was attacked by special interest ads they could receive matching funds to respond.

Senators disagreed over using public money in elections. "That was the whole intent of campaign finance reform–to level the playing field," says Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton).

"We have shortfalls in various programs. We are carrying a $1.6 billion deficit. And then we're supposed to go out and offer campaign welfare to people who can't go out and raise money for their own elections?" says Sen. Neal Kedzie (R-Elkhorn).

In the end, Sen. Ellis made a passionate speech defending the bill despite its flaws. "This is not a perfect bill."

But Republicans and Democrats alike decided the bill was not what they wanted.

"There are 13 ayes, 20 nos. The bill does not pass."

Despite the bipartisan defeat both Democratic and Republican reformers say they won't give up now and they'll bring the bill up again in the fall.

The last overhaul of Wisconsin's campaign finance laws was in the 1970's.

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