Senate Democrats met Monday to construct their version of the budget repair bill and added Senate Bill 104, the comprehensive campaign-finance plan sponsored by Sen. Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, to their draft of the legislation.

Under the Democrats’ new plan, campaign-finance reform would close loopholes on issue ads, prohibit fundraising during budgets, boost public financing grants to lessen the influence of special-interest contributions, and prohibit solicitation of campaign contributions in exchange for official action — also known as “pay to play politics.”

Common Cause in Wisconsin applauded Senate Democrats for their actions.

“We commend the Senate Democrats for this action and for keeping comprehensive campaign-finance reform front and center on the legislative agenda — where it ought to be,” Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause, said.

“Campaign-finance reform is very much a part of the budget debate and should be part of this special session of the Legislature because it was special-interest campaign money and the subsequent payback to the big campaign donors and special-interest groups that ensued in the budget process that is largely responsible for Wisconsin’s terrible fiscal condition today.”

Common Cause in Wisconsin has also called for Gov. Scott McCallum to create a bipartisan compromise between the state Senate and Assembly budget-repair packages.

“Whether campaign-finance reform is addressed as part of the budget bill or separately is beside the point,” Heck said. “What is critical is that reform be accomplished now, during this budget-repair session, in order to ensure that Wisconsin’s economic health is not put in such dire jeopardy in the future.”

State Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, said he hopes the two houses can forge some form of compromise.

“To say passing campaign-finance reform has been an uphill battle would be an understatement,” Hansen said. “It seems every time we try to move the bill forward, the governor or the Assembly is standing in the way. Hopefully, by including SB-104 in our budget, we can reach some sort of compromise when the budget goes to the conference committee.”

According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, the cost of the 2000 state Senate race in the 30th District was over $667,000. Special-interest groups required to report their expenditures are estimated to have spent over $263,000 in attempts to influence voters.

Hansen said he believes campaign-finance reform will be instrumental in permanently repairing the state’s budget deficit.
“Without campaign-finance reform, I don’t see how we ever get to a permanent fix as far as the budget goes. I really see passage of campaign reform as the first step toward reforming the budget process in both houses and the governor’s office,” Hansen said.

SB-104 passed in the Senate on a 25-8 vote but was never voted on in the State Assembly — which passed a different version of the bill that some say did not go far enough in its reforms.

State lawmakers have called for McCallum to create a compromise between the groups.

“If the governor isn’t going to lead on this issue, maybe we can convince him to at least follow along,” Hansen said.