Citizens contributing to state political campaigns could no longer be required to disclose their employer if a proposal from a conservative lawmakers alters current Wisconsin law.
Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, called Thursday to end the requirement from the state that says individuals donating more than $100 to a candidate are required to share their employment information.
In an interview with The Badger Herald, Grothman said the measure, which is currently being drafted, comes after boycotts of Wisconsin companies based on donations made to partisan campaigns.
He cited a boycott of Georgia Pacific products, a company owned by Koch Industries, Inc., which Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, promoted as the latest example of singling out contributors based on their political leanings.
“We have a new level of instability in this state because unions and certain legislators have been calling for the boycotting of businesses who support Republicans,” he said.
Grothman said the original spirit of the state law for disclosure of a contributor’s occupation and employer embodied a political climate in the state that did not support powerful groups or elected officials encouraging the boycott of state companies.
Should the current rules of disclosure continue in the state, he cautioned that against the “chilling effect” that citizens could grow more hesitant to contribute to campaigns out of fear for negative retribution for their small business or employer.
He added such boycotts of state businesses only function to worsen the unemployment rate.
In a statement issued Thursday, Grothman said the past seven months had been characterized by “mean-spirited public employee unions” applying their purchasing power to single out companies in which employees contribute to Republican political campaigns.
While Grothman said the legislation would protect citizens from being singled out, Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause Wisconsin, characterized the proposal as a method to obscure the money trail of contributions to campaigns.
He said state law currently allows a large portion of funds from outside special interests to go undisclosed and the measure would function to keep voters in the dark as to who is funding elections.
“People need to know where the money is coming from when they vote,” Heck said. “If there was no disclosure, candidates could raise money from any source and not be accountable to the public.”
Heck added the public has every right to know where campaign finances are coming from and to make informed decisions about the businesses they patronize based on this information.
Disclosure and transparency in elections are longstanding institutions in the state, he said, and further restricting the information available to Wisconsin voters would promote peaked suspicion and cynicism among members of the public.
Heck also warned a lack of information for the voting public would be a “prescription for disaster” that could increase the influence of undisclosed contributors with a stake in state elections.
Lance Burri, a legislative aid for Grothman, said the bill has not yet been introduced but would likely be publically released in the upcoming week in hopes of reaching the Legislature floor for debate in October.