MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Two prominent Republican legislators promised Thursday to update Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws in the wake of several court rulings that major portions of the statutes are unworkable.
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday the state’s ban on corporate political spending and cap on how much businesses can raise for affiliated political committees are unconstitutional. The ruling also called the state’s campaign finance laws a confusing labyrinth of legalese.
Last week the state agreed to stop enforcing a cap on individual contributions to candidates to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The justices voted to strike down the overall federal limit on individuals’ contributions. Also last week a federal judge in Milwaukee ruled independent groups that don’t disclose their donors can coordinate with candidates.
Sen. Mary Lazich of New Berlin, chairwoman of the Senate’s elections committee, said she plans to start working on legislation updating the state’s laws accordingly for introduction next session. She called the rulings victories for free political speech.
She said in an interview the state’s laws are too complex and she wants to make them more user-friendly and ensure they dovetail with the court rulings. She didn’t offer any specific changes, saying it will take time to research the laws and the rulings.
“What I certainly want is for people to be participatory and government not be such a burdensome regulator that people’s speech is stifled,” she said.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, sent an email out to Assembly members later Thursday praising Lazich and pledging to lead efforts in the Assembly to revamp the campaign finance statutes. He asked anyone who’s interested to contact him but didn’t offer any specific changes.
“I intend to concentrate not only on the problems highlighted in the (7th Circuit) ruling, but also other First Amendment problems including issues related to speech coordination, arcane contribution limits, and other issues with contribution prohibitions,” he said.
His spokeswoman didn’t immediately return an after-hours email message.
Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, issued a statement lamenting the 7th Circuit’s decision, calling it a “harsh blow” to freedom and democracy. The statement didn’t address Lazich’s announcement and Larson’s spokeswoman had no immediate comment.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said in an email any changes to state law must protect elections from corruption and special interest influence.
A spokesman for the state Government Accountability Board, the agency that oversees elections, said in an email the board is willing to work with legislators to update the laws.