Chapter 11 of the state statutes, governing campaign financing, clearly needs a rewrite. Court rulings have blown huge holes in the law, which dates to 1974. One lawyer called the result “a confusing mess.” But there is vast disagreement over what changes should be made.
“No one outside of the Capitol Square in Madison has been clamoring for increasing the ability of lobbyists to make campaign contributions to legislators,” declared Jay Heck of Common Cause in Wisconsin.
In some newsrooms, reporters and editors fondly welcome odd-numbered years.
That’s because these are election-lite: No races for president, governor, attorney general or the state Legislature. No glut of partisan candidates trying to open new orifices in each other’s anatomies. Hooray.
But in covering a beat like money and politics, there is no break in the action. A glance back through a year’s worth of weekly columns confirms it.
Recently the Wisconsin State Journal asked Dennis Dresang, political science professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, about state Republicans’ push to bar local governments from regulating everything from the sale of large sugary drinks to the use of explosives by sand mining companies. Negative reaction to these curbs on local control, mused the veteran political observer, might hurt Gov. Scott Walker at the polls. But he doubted the GOP would lose seats in the Legislature, given how voter boundaries have been redrawn to the party’s advantage.
Wisconsin’s last redistricting, after the 2010 Census, was done in secret and cost taxpayers more than $2 million. Ruling Republicans strategically carved districts to maximize their electoral prospects, much as Democrats would had done had they been able.
Jay Heck of Common Cause in Wisconsin decries the “revolving door” between lawmaking and lobbying: “It feeds a public perception that legislators, at least some of them, are legislators so they can cash in on the contacts they make.”
The Republicans were able to keep a 5-3 lead in the U.S. House of Representatives, reclaim control of the state Senate by a margin of 18 to 15 seats, and secure a commanding 60-39 advantage in the state Assembly, despite getting fewer votes.
At a campaign stop near Philadelphia early in his 2010 bid for governor, Republican Tom Corbett announced, “We’ve got to raise money,” calling this his campaign’s “No. 1” priority. That same July day, a $1.5 million contribution arrived — from Wisconsin. Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, calls this well-traveled donation a prime example of “an elaborate money-laundering scheme” used by the RGA with success in a number of races for governor in 2010 — one that is legal.