Eleven individuals surpassed the limit on annual campaign contributions to local and state politicians last year, according to a report released Wednesday by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
A Wisconsin statute prohibits individuals from donating more than $10,000 per year to political parties, committees or candidates, because “excessive spending on campaigns for public office jeopardizes the integrity of elections.”
If donors exceed this limit, they may face fines from the Government Accountability Board, Mike McCabe, executive director of the WDC, said. This limit only applies to state and local politics, however, and not to federal offices.
The WDC analyzed campaign finance reports from 2009 and found that 11 people gave more than $10,000 during the course of last year.
William B. Johnson, owner of Johnson Timber Corporation, donated $14,000 last year, which was the highest amount of all of the individuals named in the report. Johnson gave $10,000 to Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Randy Koschnick in January when he ran against Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson and $4000 to Gov. Jim Doyle in June, according to the report.
The next highest contributor in the report was William Gardner, president of the Wisconsin Southern Railroad company. Gardner gave $3500 to the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee in December, as well as donations of $5000 to Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker twice, in December and November.
The other individuals named in the report all gave between $10,100 and $11,125. Walker had the overall highest amount of campaign contributions from people who went over the limit, at $52,000.
Reid Magney, spokesperson for the GAB, said the Board’s staff regularly checks these reports for alleged campaign contribution violations. Many times, these numbers can be misleading however, because the contribution will come from one person, but will be from a joint account. In that case, the donation is split between the two people sharing the account.
If it is proven that someone has gone over the $10,000 limit, they can be fined $500, plus three times the amount of the excess contribution, McCabe said.
In 2008, the GAB fined seven people who exceeded the $10,000 contribution limit, collecting more than $23,000, according to a statement from the GAB.
McCabe said the law limiting campaign contributions is aimed at protecting people from being able to unduly influence elections by pouring huge sums of money into campaigns. Wisconsin’s limits on contributions are relatively high, as people can give up to $10,000 to gubernatorial candidates, $1000 to senators and $500 to representatives during an election cycle.
Reports like this are important because it is something that helps to keep government open and honest, McCabe said. The role of the media and watchdog groups is to make sure politicians realize somebody is watching.
“I think it’s so important to make people in the political class self-conscious,” McCabe said. “If they ever get the feeling that nobody’s watching, that’s just a recipe for misbehavior.”