Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, D-Madison, questions why a state committee’s plan to take power away from the GAB’s ability to regulate campaign finance is so expansive. The committee proposes stripping the GAB of all power, but Roys said there is a much simpler solution to the concerns.[/media-credit]

State election officials could see a cut in their power to regulate campaign finance if a bill legislators considered Monday makes its way through the House and Senate. 

According to a Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules report, the bill would remove the Government Accountability Board’s ability to regulate corporation and individual campaign expenditures. 

At a public hearing Monday, Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, co-chair of JCRAR, said the bill seeks to change a current GAB rule that requires any individual who spent more than $25 campaigning to pay a registration fee of $100 with the GAB.

“Our objection to [the rule] is that the GAB cannot go beyond campaign finance laws currently written in Wisconsin,” Ott said. “We see no way this would affect their ability to regulate campaigns under current law.” 

Jason Rostan, committee clerk for JCRAR Co-Chair Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, said currently any individuals who spend $25 or more buying buttons, making signs or even on gas money to get to a protest have to register as a corporation.

However, Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, D-Madison, questioned why the proposed bill was so expansive in prohibiting the GAB from promulgating rules dealing with disclosure. She said if JCRAR thought the bill required registration from people who should not need to register, the committee should change the threshold.

She said the bill goes far beyond saying no to the $25 rule and prohibits GAB from promulgating rules that require corporations to play by the same rules as people.

“You’re hamstringing the GAB from ever dealing with that,” Roys said. “It just blows my mind that you’re willing to take that step and come forth not just to say that you think this rule goes too far … but we don’t want to let the GAB handle this at all.” 

Ott said JCRAR is charged with oversight of state agencies and the GAB had gone beyond the current state finance laws. He said any legislator is welcome to offer a specific piece of legislation which could address disclosure, but that is not JCRAR’s mission.

Executive Director of Common Cause Wisconsin Jay Heck said GAB passed the disclosure rules when the Senate failed to pass new disclosure laws in light of the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which ruled corporations and unions could contribute as much as they want to political action committees.

The $25 requirement was found in the state statutes, Heck said, so GAB could not change it. 

He added GAB has said it was not their intention to go after individual citizens who make signs and said the intention of the disclosure rule was to go after widely disseminated communications used in the 60 days prior to the election. 

Heck said rather than taking away GAB’s authority to create administrative rules related to campaign finance, the bill should seek to change the $25 rule.

“[JCRAR] didn’t need to take a surface-to-air missile to this rule; they could’ve taken a scalpel,” Heck said. “They could’ve done this in a way that made common sense.”