Wisconsin Democrats reignite push to overhaul state campaign finance laws

MADISON, Wis. — Leading Wisconsin Democrats introduced a package of seven bills on Tuesday that would overhaul state campaign finance laws, a push that seeks to reverse some of the changes passed by Republicans in 2015.

Bills would cut maximum donations to political candidates from in half, from $20,000 to $10,000, as well as introduce $10,000 limits (with some exceptions) to how much individuals or groups could donate to political action committees.

Those limits were lifted in 2015, allowing effectively limitless money to flow into PACs from wealthy donors and organizations, following the landmark 2010 Citizens United vs. FEC U.S. Supreme Court decision. That decision fundamentally reshaped the landscape of political campaigns and the way they are funded in the country, ruling that independent expenditures was a form of free speech.

Many Democratic lawmakers have long opposed the ruling, and one of the bills unveiled Tuesday would add a referendum question to the November 2022 ballot in Wisconsin asking voters whether they would support a U.S. Constitutional amendment overturning the decision.

Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), who withdrew his bid for U.S. Senate earlier Tuesday, said the supreme court decision started a “massive political landslide by blowing open the floodgates holding back special interest money.”

Sen. Larson has introduced similar proposals in the past with little success in the GOP-led state legislature.

“The power and the influence of special interest money in our political system continues to threaten the cornerstones of our democracy, and it holds us at the mercy of the wealthy, the well-connected, and corporations,” Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison) said at a press conference Tuesday.

Between 2010 and 2014, Sen. Larson said just 16.7% of campaign contributions came from PACs, a number that rose to 57.8% between 2016 and 2020 following the overhaul of state laws in 2015.

Republican assembly speaker Robin Vos did not respond to a request for comment on the legislation.
Click here for a summary from the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism of the state’s current campaign finance rules.