FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MADISON – Testifying today at a public hearing before the Committee on Campaigns and Elections, United Wisconsin urged committee members to reject Assembly Bill 378 (AB-378), a bill being fast-tracked through the legislature aimed at striking down existing campaign finance disclosure laws by removing the requirement that candidates report employer information of individuals contributing over $100.
“At a time when a record amount of special interest money is pouring into candidate coffers, the last thing we need is less disclosure,” said United Wisconsin Executive Director Lisa Subeck. “Today we’re calling on the Committee on Campaigns and Elections to do the right thing and reject Assembly Bill 378.”
Full disclosure in campaign reporting provides information which ensures the public knows who is trying to influence their votes and what special interests are working to influence public policy decisions in the Capitol.
A recently released survey by Hart Research for the Committee for Economic Development found 91% of United States business leaders believe there is a need for more – not less – transparency in campaign finance. The same survey reported that 95% of Democratic and 88% of Republican business leaders support requirements to “disclose all individual, corporate, and labor contributions to political campaigns.”
“Strong disclosure laws work to maintain the integrity of our democracy,” said Subeck. “Dismantling laws that protect the public’s right to know will only further erode the public’s trust in our democratic system and in our elected officials.”
Below is the full testimony of United Wisconsin Executive Director Lisa Subeck submitted at today’s public hearing.
Chair Bernier and Committee Members,
My name is Lisa Subeck, and I am the Executive Director of United Wisconsin, a grassroots organization of over 200,000 Wisconsin citizens committed to supporting Wisconsin’s longstanding tradition of democracy in action. On behalf of our members, I am here today to urge you to reject Assembly Bill 378.
The proposed bill changes the threshold at which an individual’s employer must be disclosed on campaign finance reports from over $100 per calendar year to over $500 in a two year period, more than doubling the minimum contribution for which such disclosure is required. This proposed increase works to diminish the public’s right to know who is trying to influence our elections.
Even a quick look at campaign finance reports reveals patterns of giving among lobbyists and executives of various businesses and industries. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, there is no denying that these contributions have influenced policy decisions made in our state Capitol. In a few instances, our current disclosure law has even led to the detection of illegal activity in which an employer avoided exceeding contribution limits by laundering donations through employees.
In addition to my role with United Wisconsin, I also serve on the City Council here in Madison. It appears that this change would apply not only to state races but also to our local elections. Contributions to a candidate in a City Council election in Madison are limited to $250 per individual, meaning that if the current law is changed as proposed in AB 378, even the largest contributors to me and to my colleagues would never require disclosure of the donor’s employer. The same is true for contributions to candidates for State Assembly where the contribution limit is $500. Effectively, all special interest contributions directly to candidates for most offices would go undetected by the electorate.
In a post-Citizens United era where outside spending on our elections is at an all-time high, it is more important than ever that we strengthen our disclosure laws to ensure the public knows who is trying to influence our votes. AB 378 takes us in the opposite direction by weakening disclosure laws and is a giant step backward for democracy. While we continue to work for a day when the voice of the people reigns over the contributions of moneyed special interests, the very least we can do is implement strong disclosure policies.
Our elections should belong to the people, not to special interest groups or corporations. To make truly free and informed choices at the ballot box, the people of Wisconsin must have access to more – not less – information about who is trying to influence their vote. Again, I urge you not to gut one of our state’s most important campaign finance disclosure laws by rejecting Assembly Bill 378.
United Wisconsin is an independent grassroots organization of citizens restoring the Wisconsin tradition of democracy in action. For more information, visit our website at www.unitedwisconsin.com.