The Assembly Campaigns and Elections Committee passed a campaign-finance reform package supported by Assembly Republicans Thursday.
The committee hearing for the bill, proposed by Rep. Mark Duff, R-New Berlin, was passed four to two on a straight party-line vote, which some say will hurt the ability to gain bipartisan support for the bill.
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 soft 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 after the U.S. Congressional debate over the Shays-Meehan legislation, set to continue Tuesday, which would limit soft-money contributions.
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 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 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.
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.