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ASSEMBLY (copy)

Rep. Peter Barca, Assembly Minority Leader, in the Assembly Chambers at the Capitol, in Madison, on Thursday, September 24, 2015. PHOTO BY MICHELLE STOCKER

In response to a bill making its way through the Legislature that would rewrite Wisconsin's campaign finance laws, Assembly Democrats are proposing a constitutional amendment they say would ensure accountability in future changes to the rules. 

The proposal, introduced by Rep. Steve Doyle, D-Onalaska, would ban legislators from passing a law making changes to campaign finance rules that would apply during their current term of office.

Democratic lawmakers said on Wednesday they aren't arguing legislators should never change campaign finance laws, just that those changes shouldn't take affect until the legislators who voted for the changes go before the electorate once more.

"We think it is wrong to be able to pass legislation before you’ve been re-elected to enhance your chances to win re-election," said Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha.

The proposal comes in response to a Republican bill recently approved by the Assembly and up for a Senate vote on Friday. 

The bill, as passed by the Assembly, would double the amount of contributions that state and local candidates could receive from individuals, and would adjust that limit for inflation every five years.

Under the bill, political parties and legislative campaign committees could make unlimited donations to a candidate committee. The bill would allow legislative campaign committees and political parties to receive unlimited contributions, with the exception of a $12,000 per year limit on PAC contributions to those committees and parties.

The legislation would also allow unlimited contributions to be made to and transferred between political action committees.

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A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said on Tuesday some amendments will be added to the Senate version of the bill, but those changes have not yet been made public.

Republicans backing the proposal say the legislation is necessary to bring the state's statutes up to speed with several court rulings governing campaign finance, and say the bill is designed to protect First Amendment rights to free speech. Democrats argue the bill would open the door for corruption and expand the influence of money in politics.

Assembly Democrats recused themselves en masse from voting on the campaign finance proposal, citing a "substantial financial interest." Barca said Wednesday they would not have recused themselves if Republicans had accepted an amendment introduced by Rep. Mandela Barnes, D-Milwaukee, to prevent the law from taking effect until after the next campaign cycle.

A constitutional amendment must be adopted by two successive legislatures and approved by voters before it can take effect.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.