Assembly Republicans on Monday sent Gov. Scott Walker bills rewriting campaign finance laws and replacing the state’s ethics and elections board with two new commissions. The bills were prompted, in part, by ire over an investigation of Walker’s campaign that was terminated this summer by a state Supreme Court ruling. A provision of the campaign finance bill would put into law the court’s finding that candidates and issue groups can work closely together. The campaign finance bill would also double the amount donors can give candidates; allow corporations and unions to give money to political parties and campaign committees controlled by legislative leaders; and end the requirement that donors disclose their employers. That would make it harder for the public to find out which industries are funneling money to candidates. That measure passed 59-0, with all Republicans favoring it and all Democrats refusing to vote because they argued it was a conflict of interest for lawmakers to vote on changes to campaign finance laws that would take effect before the next election.
The GOP governor’s campaign had been investigated by the accountability board and prosecutors for working with the Wisconsin Club for Growth and other conservative groups in recall elections. The state Supreme Court in a 4-2 ruling in July shut down the probe and said issue groups and candidates can work together.
The other bill would dissolve the accountability board and hand its duties over to two new commissions. With a pair of votes — one 58-37 and one 56-37 — the Assembly signed off on changes to the bill the Senate had made. Three Assembly Republicans joined all Democrats in opposing the legislation.
The accountability board consists of six former judges, and Republicans have said they and their staff are biased against them. Rep. Dean Knudson (R-Hudson), a lead sponsor of the measure, called the accountability board “the policemen of speech” and “secret police” that put “a stain on Wisconsin’s reputation for clean and open government.” The judges have denied such claims, saying they enforce the law impartially.
The legislation would create an Ethics Commission made up of six members, including two former judges. Democrats and Republicans would each appoint three members to the commission, which would oversee ethics laws for public officials, lobbying regulations and campaign finance matters.