A Wisconsin legislator has managed to bundle nearly all of the excesses associated with dirty elections into a single bill that good government advocates are describing as a “sweeping assault on democracy:” the legislation would try reinstating restrictive voter ID requirements, make it easier for donors to secretly influence elections, expand lobbyist influence, restrict early voting, and make it harder to register, among other measures. The legislation is “so huge, covers so much ground, and has so many independently controversial parts of it,” that it appears “intended to cut-out any public input or to render [that input] meaningless,” says Andrea Kaminski, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin. Announced on the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day weekend, and in the midst of the budget-writing process that consumes most state news coverage, the bill from Rep. Jeff Stone (R) seems designed to be rushed-through before the public has a chance to respond.
The most troubling provision in the bill, says Jay Heck, Executive Director of Common Cause Wisconsin, is that it “codifies protection [from disclosure] for phony issue ads.”
Wisconsin, like most of the country, saw millions spent in the 2012 elections on so-called “issue ads” whose donors skirted disclosure requirements by stopping short of urging viewers to “vote for” or “vote against” a candidate. Because of the “issue ad” loophole, voters do not know how much was actually spent on elections, and most importantly, they don’t know where the money came from.
The state elections board issued rules in 2010 to help close the issue ad loophole but has not enforced them, likely fearing a court challenge. “This bill would guarantee they are never enforced and nullify the rule,” said Mike McCabe, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. “It would enshrine the issue ad loophole in state law.”