- Associated Press - Friday, November 13, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Democrats and advocacy groups unveiled an alternative campaign finance bill Friday that they admitted had no chance of success in the Republican-controlled Legislature, where a measure reducing disclosure and increasing donation limits is poised to pass.

The bill up for a final vote Monday in the Assembly also makes clear that candidates can coordinate with issue advocacy groups, as the state Supreme Court said in a July ruling that they could.

The Assembly also plans to pass a bill Monday doing away with the state’s nonpartisan Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections, campaign finance, ethics and lobbying laws.

It would be replaced with one commission overseeing ethics, campaign finance and lobbying, with another in charge of elections. The ethics commission would include two retired judges and an equal number of partisan appointees. The elections commission would be made up of an equal number of Democratic and Republican appointees.

Once both pass the Assembly as anticipated, they will go to Gov. Scott Walker, who is expected to sign them into law.

Democrats and others who gathered Friday for one last push against the proposals admitted they didn’t have the votes to stop them, but said it was important to at least outline an alternative approach to updating the campaign finance laws in reaction to recent state and federal court rulings.

Democrats generally support maintaining the GAB in its current form and have not put forward an alternative to the Republican plan doing away with the board.

Rep. Terese Berceau, a Madison Democrat who introduced the alternative campaign finance bill, said Republicans were “clubbing us over the head” with their proposal.

“We have, clearly, the arrogance of power,” she said. “They don’t need our votes. They don’t care.”

The campaign finance bill has only two Republican sponsors - Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald. The Senate passed it 17-15, with Republican Sen. Rob Cowles joining all Democrats in opposition.

“It is unfortunate that Democrats are stuck in a never-ending hyperbole trying to undermine numerous court rulings and our First Amendment rights,” said Vos’s spokeswoman Kit Beyer. “On Monday, free speech will prevail.”

The Republicans’ campaign finance bill, taken together with the reorganization of the GAB, will significantly change the flow of money into Wisconsin elections, the oversight of that activity and how ethics laws are enforced.

Republican backers say the changes are about protecting free speech rights in elections. They also say problems with the current Government Accountability Board need to be addressed, and the campaign finance law needed to be updated following recent federal and state court rulings striking down significant portions as unconstitutional.

But their campaign finance proposal does more than what the courts ordered. Democrats said Friday their measure was in line with the court rulings, while keeping other reporting and disclosure requirements in place that Republicans do away with.

The Republican bill would double from $10,000 to $20,000 the amount individuals can give to candidates for statewide office and make clear candidates can coordinate with outside issue advocacy groups. Coordination with groups that expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate would still be banned, but the prohibited activities would be narrowed.

The Republican bill also would do away with a requirement that people who give more than $100 to political campaigns disclose who they work for. That change, opponents argue, will make it more difficult to determine when employees may have been coerced by their employers to give to a particular candidate.

The Democratic bill doesn’t make any of those changes. Berceau said no one is asking for the changes being sought by Republicans. Wisconsin Right to Life and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state chamber of commerce, are the only groups registered in support of the measure.

Those in opposition include the League of Women Voters, Common Cause in Wisconsin, Planned Parenthood, and the Wisconsin state AFL-CIO.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP . His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-bauer

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