Citizens Panel

May 1, 1998

Citizens Panel Recommends Wisconsin Campaign Reforms

RIVER FALLS-An independent Citizens Panel on Wisconsin Campaign Reform is recommending substantial changes in funding state-wide political campaigns that calls for mixed public and private funding supported by an income tax check-off.

Sponsored by the Citizens Election Forum of Minneapolis, 21 residents of Pierce and St. Croix counties took testimony for a week between April 13-17 on the most effective way to engage Wisconsin voters in elections.

Students in a political participation course taught by UW-River Falls political science Professor Dave Schultz selected the panelists and monitored the week-long presentations and discussions for bias.

Appearing before the panelists to present their approach to electoral reform were five organizations with proposals that ranged from full public financing of campaigns to a hands-off approach with no restrictions on donations.

Presenting to the panelists were: Roger Bybee of Wisconsin Citizen Action; Gail Shea, of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign; Rep. Joe Handrick, R-Minocqua, who is chair of the Wisconsin Assembly Campaign Finance Reform Committee; Brent Pickens, chair of the Wisconsin Christian Coalition; and Ned Crosby, founder of the Twin Cities-based Citizens Election Forum. Presently, an Extraordinary Session of the Wisconsin Legislature is considering an overhaul of Wisconsin's state election laws. Included in the mix is legislation sponsored by Gov. Tommy Thompson's Blue Ribbon Commission on Campaign Reform, known as the Kettl Commission.

Citizen panelists spokespersons strongly urged legislators to take the Citizen Panel's recommendations into account. The Panel's findings were presented to Gov. Thompson during his visit to UW-River Falls on April 27 for a bill signing ceremony, as well as to local legislators.

"I think the Panel's report should play a pretty large role in the debate," said panelist spokesperson Crystal Konder, who owns a cabinet manufacturing business in Glenwood City.

Konder said it was clear during the presentations that special interests have the greatest influence and ordinary voters have the least when it comes to Wisconsin state elections and legislative activities.

She said there clearly is a role for special interest groups, but the panel offered a series of voters education and campaign issues monitoring recommendations that will increase electorate interest and impact on elections.

"The study should influence Legislators' votes," she opined. "They are all intelligent, well-educated individuals. They should listen to the voters within their districts, certainly. But they should also use their own common sense" to adopt reforms related to educating voters on election issues.

Panelist spokesperson Eric Groop, a kitchen manager from Ellsworth, said that the Citizens Panel exercise demonstrates that common ground can be found despite the extreme differences in election reform proposals.

Paul Schaefer, project director for the Citizens Panel, said that was apparent as each of the major election reform presenters took advantage of their presentations and moved toward common ground on many issues.

"That was one of the things that the panelists enjoyed the most," Schaefer said. "These are groups that normally lob bricks over the wall. They work in a political environment that is adversarial by its nature. The Citizens Panel doesn't encourage combative language and provides a forum that leads to a more collegial response."

The panelists proposed a variety of reforms, drawing from each of the five proposals. Major suggestions include:

-Eliminate foreign contributions.
-Limit out of district individual contributions to a maximum of 15 percent.
-Limit Political Action Committee contributions to 10 percent.
-Eliminate Legislative Campaign Committees with funding coming from warchests compiled by legislative leaders.
-Excess campaign funds after elections should be used for voter education.

-Restrict negative telephone call surveys, with notification 24 hours advance notice of those surveys to the State Elections Board.
-Provide full disclosure on all campaign funding, including the names of contributors to PAC funding.
-Full electronic disclosure of contributors' names.

-Set absolute caps, adjusted for inflation: $2 million for governor; $750,000 for attorney general; $250,000 for other statewide elections; $100,000 for senate; $50,000 for assembly.

-Only provide to those who agree to spending limits.
-Provide a $5 check-off on Wisconsin Income Tax forms with options to be earmarked to a political party or as a general contribution for elections.

-Use a percentage of check-off funds for voter education. This would convene Citizens Panels who would query voters on campaign issues identified through televote surveys to determine those topics of greatest interest to voters.
-Citizens Election Forum Panels would meet each August to query candidates in depth on issues identified through the televotes, and rate the candidates' positions. Results of these non-partisan reviews would be mailed to all registered voters in Wisconsin.
-Establish the Citizens Forum as a public-private agency independent of legislative control to oversee the voter education activities.
-The fully implemented annual cost would be $4.5 million, funded through income tax check-offs, excess campaign funds, and state tax dollars.

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