Wisconsin Assembly Republicans are attempting to pass campaign finance reform this week with the introduction of the third piece of similar legislation this session.
The committee hearing for the bill, still unnumbered, proposed by Rep. Mark Duff, R-New Berlin, is being held today.

The bill is drastically different from SB 104 and AB 801, identical pieces of legislation introduced by Sen. Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, and Rep. Dave Travis, D-Madison.

Although all of the proposed bills seek to eliminate the influence of big money on state campaigns, the Assembly bill would set aside $5.4 million over four years for grants to be given to public candidates who abide by spending limits.

Wisconsin’s fervor for campaign finance legislation comes in the wake of the U.S. Congressional debate over Shays-Meehan legislation, which would limit soft money contributions, set to continue Tuesday.

Wisconsin’s proposals concern advertising sponsored by political groups.

Under Ellis’ plan, $4.3 million would be spent each year. Duff’s bill would fund campaigns by increasing the check-off option on income tax forms from $1 to $5 and give taxpayers the option of directing money toward a political party.

Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, said that although Duff’s legislation is a less ambitious bill than the other two in terms of removing special interest money from state elections, he is supportive of the process moving along.

“Assembly Republicans have introduced a bill that is much less effective in terms of what needs to be done,” Heck said. “If [campaign finance legislation] is going to happen there has got to be a compromise.”

Heck said a movement at the hearing today will propose substituting the entire Ellis bill into Duff’s legislation. But Heck said an amendment is unlikely to pass. He has also called on what he calls the “big three”–Gov. Scott McCallum, Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, R-Waukesha, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala, D-Madison,–to ensure passage of the legislation.

Travis said the difference between Duff’s bill and the other two is the treatment of public financing and issue advocacy groups.

“The only way to control some of the spending is to get public funding,” Travis said.

Although he, too, doubts the bill will pass, Travis is eager to find bipartisan legislation.

“Because of the difference in how political parties are funded and operate,” Travis said, “we have to come up with a balance so that everyone feels that they are being treated fairly and equally.”

Paul Ueberliner, outreach director for the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign said though the state is eager to pass campaign finance legislation, he believes the bill will not go far without bipartisan support.

“I would like to see a bipartisan bill get going,” Travis said. “There has not been a great deal of leadership from the governor. We haven’t seen that.”

Heck said SB 104 is currently being held in the state Senate because Gov. McCallum has refused to assure Chvala he won’t use partial veto privileges to create a partisan bill. The governor’s office said McCallum does not plan to create a partisan bill but refuses to give up veto power.

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