- Associated Press - Friday, January 8, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Friday that the state elections board wrongly asserted that Wisconsin’s new campaign finance laws don’t require political parties and campaign committees to disclose contributions from corporations.

The dustup stems from a sweeping overhaul of the state’s campaign finance laws that Gov. Scott Walker approved last month. Vos, who wrote the GOP-backed bill outlining the changes, said the board is misinterpreting the law.

The new rules allow corporations to donate up to $12,000 to political parties and campaign committees controlled by legislative leaders. The parties and the committees can’t give that money to candidates or use it to expressly advocate for a candidate’s defeat or election.

The Government Accountability Board, which oversees state elections, believes the law doesn’t require political parties and the legislative committees to report corporate donations or how they spend that money, board spokesman Reid Magney recently told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Vos asked for a memo on the law’s requirements from the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau, which drafts legislation for lawmakers. The bureau said both entities must report all contributions and spending to the state.

Vos’ office also pointed to a memo from Mike Wittenwyler, a Madison attorney who specializes in campaign finance law. He said the new law doesn’t specifically lay out how election officials should track corporate donations but it clearly requires political parties and legislative campaign committees to report all contributions and spending.

“We believe the statutes are clear that disclosure is required,” Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer said in an email.

Magney confirmed to The Associated Press on Friday that board staff is telling anyone who asks that the law doesn’t require political parties and campaign committees to report corporate donations or how they spend those contributions.

The board believes reporting isn’t mandatory because the statutes don’t establish any specific reporting mechanism for corporate donations, he said. Board staff asked the board to create such a mechanism in December, saying it was necessary to track which donations came from corporations, but the board said doing so would exceed its authority.

Magney said the will revisit the issue during a meeting Tuesday in Madison. Campaign finance reports aren’t due until July, giving the board months to find a solution. Beyer, Vos’s spokeswoman, didn’t immediately respond to an email asking what the speaker would like to see the board do.

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.


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

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