- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 12, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The state elections board shifted Tuesday from its stance that Wisconsin’s new campaign finance laws don’t require political parties and legislative campaign committees to disclose contributions from corporations.

The Government Accountability Board, which oversees the state’s elections, unanimously adopted a motion requiring the parties and committees to report such contributions as well as how they spend the money.

GAB Director Kevin Kennedy said that board staff incorrectly told people the law didn’t mandate such disclosures.

“We’ve been scrambling to correct that,” Kennedy said.

A section of the new law allows corporations to donate up to $12,000 to political parties and campaign committees controlled by legislative leaders. The parties and the committees are limited to spending that money on administrative expenses. They can’t spend the money on expressly advocating for a candidate or pass it on to a candidate.



GAB spokesman Reid Magney said last week that board staff was telling anyone who asks that the law doesn’t require the parties or the committees to report corporate donations or how they spend them.

The law clearly states that both entities must report all contributions and spending to the state, but Magney said the board believed reporting wasn’t mandatory because the statutes don’t establish any separate reporting procedure or mechanism for corporate donations. GAB staffers asked the board during a mid-December meeting to create such a procedure but the board declined after members said they felt that would exceed their authority under the new law.

The Legislative Reference Bureau drafted a memo at Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ request saying that both the parties and committees must report all contributions and spending. Mike Wittenwyler, a Madison campaign finance attorney, also wrote a memo saying the new law doesn’t specifically lay out how election officials should track corporate donations but clearly requires political parties and legislative campaign committees to report all contributions and spending.

Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, the campaign finance law’s chief authors, sent a joint letter to the GAB late Monday saying that the agency can create guidelines for implementing the technical points of the law.

“When you get a brand new law, you see this,” Kennedy said of the incorrect reading of the law. “These are administrative issues that come up and get worked out.”

The GAB is currently made up of six retired judges, but it will be replaced in July with two partisan commissions - one overseeing elections, the other ethics violations.

Republicans, who pushed for the change, say the GAB has been nonpartisan in name only. They’re also upset with the board for participating in an investigation into whether Walker’s 2012 recall campaign illegally coordinated with outside groups. The state Supreme Court halted the probe this summer, saying no one did anything wrong.

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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