The maximum amount of money donors could give to state candidates would double, people could register to vote electronically and lobbyists trying to influence the awarding of a contract would have to report their activities under a dramatically rewritten bill approved Monday by the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections.
The bipartisan measure also would require lawmakers and lobbyists to have a mandatory four hours of training in state ethics laws.
It passed 8-1, with Rep. David Craig, R-Big Bend, voting no. He declined comment after the vote.
In its original form, the bill would have reinstated the requirement that people
present a photo ID to vote, a measure that is currently tied up in lawsuits that allege the requirement is an unconstitutional infringement on voters’ rights. A variety of other provisions in the sweeping bill had drawn strong opposition from clean government and civil rights groups.
But Monday, the committee adopted a substitute amendment that stripped the most controversial aspects of Assembly Bill 225 out.
In addition to reinstating photo ID, those killed provisions would have legalized secret, corporate financing of so-called issue ads; allowed the governor more leeway in choosing nominees to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board; further limited the time for in-person absentee balloting and made it harder to recall local elected officials.
However, committee chairwoman Kathleen Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, said she expects all of those issues to resurface some time after the Legislature returns from its summer break.
The substitute amendment OK’d Monday would double the maximum limit for contributions by individuals to candidates for state office.
For example, donors could give $20,000 to candidates for governor, attorney general or state Supreme Court justice, up from the current maximum of $10,000.
Contributors could give $1,000 to Assembly candidates, double the current limit of $500 per candidate; and $2,000 to state Senate candidates, up from the current $1,000 limit .
The bill also would require
the GAB to review those limits every two years to adjust for inflation.
The bipartisan replacement also would allow voters to register online for the first time in Wisconsin by providing a driver’s license or official state identification number. Changes of address also could be made electronically.
Bernier said the online registration provisions would be implemented in the next biennium, which begins in July 2015, because of their significant
The bill also extends the time frame during which lobbyists may make contributions, but it also would require that lobbyists report activity related to state procurement decisions. Currently, lobbyists must report lobbying on proposals, rules and bills.
AB 225, whose chief sponsor is Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greendale, now heads to the floor of the Assembly for a final vote in that body on Wednesday. It still faces a vote in the state Senate.
Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, thanked Bernier for helping craft a measure that takes into account concerns raised by the public and members of the minority party. He called the bill “significantly fairer than the original proposal.”
Rep. Therese Berceau, D-Madison, agreed, saying she was grateful that Republicans agreed to remove policies that Democrats considered “rather egregious.”
In an interview, Bernier said she had received “a lot of emails” opposing the earlier version of the bill and that “both sides of the aisle came together to discuss what we could agree on.”
After the vote, Common Cause in Wisconsin executive director Jay Heck applauded the rejection of some of the bill’s most controversial elements. But he said raising the contribution limits is no reform.
“This is one of those bills where you’re grateful some of the bad things are taken out of it,” Heck said. “But this isn’t progress.”