Just days after Gov. Scott Walker introduced an anti-recall television advertisement and the state gears up for what could be a series of special elections, legislation was introduced this week that would require political ads to show who is financing them.
The Legislative Reference Burueau’s analysis of the bill, introduced Monday, says that under current law, a group or individual that is putting out a political ad has to obey certain restrictions to identify the source of funding for the ad.
This bill adds two additional requirements groups have to follow. First, all ads must provide a phone number or website where the group or individual can be reached for contact. Secondly, any radio ads must have verbal confirmation of the contact information at the beginning and end of the ad, and for a television ad there must be contact information on the screen at all times at the bottom of the ad.
Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber, D-Appleton, who introduced the legislation, said the bill is an effort to make sure people can inform themselves about the groups or individuals who put out these ads.
“Political ads come on the television very fast without any approval from the candidate, which are usually inaccurate and misleading,” Bernard Schaber said. “We can’t say who has to disclose because of freedom of speech, but we can say how they disclose information.”
When asked if this kind of reform had been attempted before, Bernard Schaber said it was tried two years ago when the Democrats had control of the Senate. The bill did not receive either Democrat or Republican support, she said, and did not leave committee.
Government Accountability Board spokesperson Reid Magney said there are two kinds of political ads, issue ads and campaign ads. If campaign ads (ads that specifically state “vote for this candidate” or “we support this candidate”) violate a regulation, they are reported to the GAB.
Executive Director of Common Cause in Wisconsin Jay Heck said while the bill was a step in the right direction, what the state needs is a full disclosure law that requires the GAB to provide detailed background information on the group or individual donor that is funding the ad.
“What [Bernard] Schaber has introduced is a moderate measure. It would at least have some disclosure,” Heck said. “What we really need is a full disclosure law. This would absolutely require all outside groups that run any campaign ad within 60 days of an election to have to file with the GAB who their donors are.”
Heck said the contact information requirement proposed in Bernard Schaber’s bill could sometimes help but that the site or phone number might not list who the ad’s donors are, and that is the information the public needs.
Heck added several other states, including Minnesota, already have full disclosure laws. He also said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, was working on a full disclosure law to be publish around December.
“I think we need something a little bit stronger, and I think we can get it,” Heck said. “I think we can get bipartisan support. It wouldn’t cost anything. It’s sensible reform that Wisconsin needs. What [Bernard] Schaber has introduced should be widely accepted but so should a full disclosure law.”