In light of recent controversy surrounding possible redistricting legislation, three Wisconsin political insiders appeared before an independent consumer advocacy board Thursday to push for redistricting and campaign disclosure reform.
The State Governing Board for Common Cause in Wisconsin heard testimony from University of Wisconsin political science professor Barry Burden, Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, and Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Madison.
Burden laid out a set of principles he thought people should follow when redrawing Senate districts. He said the rules were simple to follow.
“First of all, politicians should not be drawing lines for themselves or for other legislators,” Burden said. “Voters should be picking their representatives rather than the other way around. Redistricting eats up valuable legislator time and attributes to a hostile atmosphere in the Legislature. And that transparency is always a good thing.”
Burden said if the state wants to follow those principles, the current situation is undesirable and there are other ways to go. He said he favored taking control of redistricting away from the Legislature and the governor and putting it in the hands of an independent state agency like the Government Accountability Board.
Cullen, a former board member of Common Cause, said he was working with Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, on reforming redistricting laws. He said now is a good time to push for the reform, since redistricting plans were approved this past session, and depending on lawsuits will not be changed for another decade.
He added it is a good time too because nobody knows who will control the Legislature in 2021. He also said between 2001 and 2011, the Legislature turned over by 70 percent.
“So, our argument with the Legislature is, by and large, you’re not going to be here anyway,” Cullen said. “So why don’t you do the right thing while you’re here”?
The board also heard testimony on campaign disclosure, which would require candidates to make public the people who donate money. Erpenbach said he was working with a Republican senator to try and introduce disclosure and campaign finance laws.
Erpenbach said his committee had recently approved a bill which would allow people who donate less than $250 a year to not provide the place they work or their occupation.
He said this proposal could allow people to donate $249 a year to a Senate campaign without having to give their job, which could lead to confusion. For instance, he said two other people named Jon Erpenbach live in Wisconsin, and a person trying to find out who gave money to the candidate may not be able to figure out who donated to that candidate.
Erpenbach said the problem with reforming disclosure laws is with both Democrats and Republicans. He said the Democratic Party should have worked on disclosure laws when it was in control of the Legislature and the governor, but it did not.
Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause, said these issues are difficult to push on the Legislature, and the body currently has no plan to take up any reform of disclosure or campaign laws.
“Our challenge is to get their reforms elevated in the public so the Legislature pays attention,” Heck said. “If they don’t, they’ll be issues in the campaign. We want voters to be considering these issues when they vote in November.”