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Guest views: Bill to lessen donor disclosure is ill-advised

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October 9, 2013

The flood of money into Wisconsin's political campaigns needs more transparency, not less.
That's why the Legislature should reject Senate Bill 282, which received a public hearing last week at the state Capitol in Madison.
Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, said his proposal would protect businesses from backlash over campaign donations their employees make to politicians.
Grothman cited a union-organized boycott of a Wisconsin bank in 2011 after campaign finance records showed bank executives gave to Gov. Scott Walker's campaign. Public sector unions were mad about Walker's strict limits on collective bargaining.
But Grothman's evidence of harm is sketchy. Moreover, the same disclosure requirement affecting top Walker donors also applied to union leaders and public employees who contributed lots of money to Walker's opponents.
It works both ways. And the more information voters have about large campaign donations, the better they can gauge influence.
Current state law requires any donation over $100 per year to include the contributor's principal place of employment. Grothman would drop this requirement for all donors. And only those who give more than $500 over two years would have to report a generic occupation.
If Grothman's bill were to pass, donors to state Assembly candidates would never have to disclose what they do for a living, much less where they work. Neither, for example, would donors to Madison City Council candidates.
That would make it much harder, for example, to know if pay-day loan executives were steering lots of donations to key lawmakers who regulate the industry, or if local developers were strongly backing a city council candidate.
Kevin Kennedy, director of the state Government Accountability Board, called SB 282 “fundamentally flawed” during last week's hearing.
“It eviscerates the basic principle of disclosure on which campaign finance law is based,” he told the Senate Committee on Elections.
Employer information for large donors helps avoid confusion between people with the same or similar names, he noted. It also serves as “a critical law enforcement tool” in stopping money-laundering schemes, he said.
The public has a right to know a few details about who is writing large checks to campaigns.

- The Wisconsin State Journal



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