By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The board that oversees Wisconsin elections decided Tuesday to ask legislators to rework the state’s campaign finance laws, saying the statutes have grown so complex and riddled with holes in the wake of court rulings that they need a complete overhaul.
The Government Accountability Board adopted a resolution on a unanimous vote saying the Legislature needs to address what coordination, if any, should be allowed between candidates and outside committees; what reporting requirements, if any, should apply to outside groups that spend money in campaigns; whether to adjust or eliminate contribution limits that have been on the books since the 1970s; and whether to limit contributions individuals can make to non-candidate committees.
The resolution calls on lawmakers to establish a study committee to figure out how to approach the task and offers the board’s assistance.
“(The law) needs thorough and complete study and consideration,” said board member Thomas Barland. “The worst thing that could be done is piecemeal change or ill-informed change.”
The last year has seen a number of court rulings that have punched holes in Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws. Federal judges in Milwaukee have struck down contribution limits for individual donors and political committees. A federal appeals court found that the GAB can’t force non-candidate groups to report spending on anything that doesn’t expressly call for a candidate’s election or defeat.
Meanwhile, the state Supreme Court is weighing whether candidates can coordinate with outside groups, a question at the heart of a secret investigation prosecutors and the GAB launched into whether Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign illegally coordinated with conservative groups.
The board’s resolution is merely a recommendation; legislators aren’t obligated to do anything. Chad Zuleger, a spokesman for state Rep. Kathy Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, chairwoman of the Assembly elections committee, said Bernier hadn’t seen the resolution but promised a campaign finance overhaul is coming.
“It’s safe to say (the law) is going to be looked at and scrutinized,” Zuleger said. “I think we need to simplify it and make it more readable and understandable.
“We’re looking at, if not a complete rewrite, a significant overhaul.”
Sen. Devin LeMahieu, chairman of the Senate elections committee, said in a statement that he was pleased to see the board call for a full rewrite of the law, saying the current statutes are too difficult to navigate.
“We need to modernize our laws this session to account for court decisions and to give clear guidance to individuals and groups wishing to engage in the political process,” said LeMahieu, R-Oostburg.
The GAB typically makes recommendations for tweaking state law at the beginning of every legislative session. The campaign finance resolution comes as Republican lawmakers are mulling revamping the board and moving toward a more partisan structure.