In the weeks since Gov. Scott Walker (R) abandoned his bid for a presidency, the Republicans who help him run Wisconsin have been on a tear. Thanks to creative post-2010 redistricting and a strong 2014 election win, Republicans control enough of the legislature in Madison to push through legislation that had been stymied by dissent — or negative media attention. Yesterday, the minority Democrats boycotted a vote on some of that legislation, a bill that would end some campaign contribution limits and allow candidates to coordinate with “issue” organizations. The caps on individual donations to state legislative and constitutional offices would be doubled; unlimited funds would be allowed to flow to campaign committees, even if the money came from the candidates themselves. Democrats, who have fought in vain to slow down conservative legislation in the past, were shocked at the speed of this bill. “It was always moving, but it kind of hit an oil slick this month,” state Rep. Mandela Barnes said in an interview. “It sped up and got out of control.”
This bill is moving in tandem with similarly unstoppable efforts to change the Government Accountability Board from a nonpartisan watchdog to a bipartisan one, and to reform the sort of “John Doe” investigations that dogged Walker before and during his presidential bid. Wisconsin Republicans have said that GAB reform is necessary; Assembly Speaker Robin Vos called it a “failed experiment,” saying it allowed purportedly nonpartisan officials to work against enemies.
“We thought it could potentially take partisanship and politics out of the process,” Vos said in a TV interview. “We took out a piece of human nature, that everyone has a partisan leaning.”
But as Common Cause Wisconsin’s Jay Heck has pointed out, the Republican replacement for the GAB — two panels, split evenly between Republicans and Democrats — mirrors the structure of the Federal Election Commission, whose toothlessness has effectively rendered it irrelevant.