— From the Wisconsin State Journal
Gov. Scott Walker understands the danger of anonymous electioneering.
Or at least he did nearly two decades ago, when he was a state lawmaker. Walker proposed legislation in 1997 to require out-of-state political committees to file reports with the state showing the source of all money spent in Wisconsin.
“Wisconsin voters have a right to know the source of all the money being poured into the state from Washington, D.C., and beyond,” Walker said at the time.
“For all we know, some of this money could be coming from foreign sources,” he said.
He was right.
But his concern has faded since he survived an incredibly expensive recall election, fueled by millions of dollars in campaign spending by outside groups.
And now he’s running for president, which requires even more money.
Walker was the big winner last week when the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 4-2 to end a special prosecutor’s investigation of his 2012 recall campaign. The state’s high court ruled that politicians can coordinate their campaigns with outside groups that don’t specifically urge the public to vote for or against a candidate before an election.
Assuming the ruling stands, Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws are now weak and unclear. Just about anything goes.
That’s because money can now be given to outside groups without the donor being identified. And the group that gets the money can coordinate advertising with its favored candidate.
So it will be easy for the fat cats to dodge public scrutiny of their spending. Instead of giving directly to a candidate, which still requires disclosure of a donor’s name, amount and employer, the brave new world of campaign financing in Wisconsin lets secret money flow to outside groups to be spent as candidates wish.
It makes no sense, as the special prosecutor in charge of the investigation into Walker’s recall campaign explained last week.
“It defies common sense that a Wisconsin resident of average means who gives $25 to a campaign has his or her name publicly reported under the law but, according to this decision, someone who gives, for example, $100,000 to a group which closely coordinates with the same campaign can remain anonymous,” said Francis Schmitz, the special prosecutor who is considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, based on millions of dollars in campaign contributions spent on behalf of some of the justices who decided last week’s case.
Schmitz, by the way, is a Republican who voted for Walker. So don’t believe the conservative conspiracy theory about a “partisan witch hunt.”
If a mining company seeking a mine in Wisconsin gives a huge sum to help the governor stay in power, the public deserves to know. And the same goes for a Democratic governor benefiting from big bucks that an American Indian tribe spends on his behalf while seeking a sweetheart gambling contract from the state.
Both of those scenarios have played out in the past.
In the wake of last week’s ruling opening the flood gates to anonymous campaign spending, the Legislature needs to write a clear elections law with strict transparency rules respecting the public’s right to know who is trying to influence their leaders.
Gov. Walker was right to seek such a rule nearly two decades ago. Now he should repeat that call for action when it really counts.