Oppose AB225 - More Big Money in WI Elections Bill

By Bruce Speight

Good morning Chairman Lazich and members of the committee.  Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Bruce Speight and I’m the Director of WISPIRG, the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group. WISPIRG is a statewide, non-partisan public interest organization.  We represent members across Wisconsin.

I am here today to oppose AB225, and any effort to increase campaign contribution limits.  Political power in Wisconsin and across the country is already concentrated in the hands of an elite fraction of the population.  Less than 1/100th of 1% of Wisconsinites give to our current campaign limit of $10,000 for state office.  Increasing contribution limits will further drown out the voices of ordinary Wisconsin voters. 

The federal 2012 election cycle displayed the ability of a miniscule fraction of Americans to dominate election spending using high contribution limits. In U.S. Senate races, $233 million — 40% of all money spent — came from just 0.02% of Americans making contributions at the limit of $2,500. The impact of average voters was tiny by comparison: In the Senate, donations of less than $200 accounted for a mere 20% of all donations.

Increasing contribution limits will give an even bigger megaphone to this miniscule fraction of people who can write the biggest checks. 

If preserving government of, by and for the people isn’t reason enough to reject this bill, then I urge you to consider these other important implications.  While money raised and spent isn’t the only predictor thankfully of victory in our elections, it is undeniably key to every step of the process.  As the cost of elections soars and the need to appeal to big donors rises, our candidate pool shrinks, cutting off opportunities to serve for average Wisconsinites, and narrowing the spectrum of views and perspectives offered at the polls.  When the only candidates on the ballot are those who were able to appeal to large donors, our election system is fundamentally undemocratic. 

Rather than opening the floodgates to more big money influence, WISPIRG urges state leaders to strengthen our democracy and empower average citizens – for example, Congressman Tom Petri’s proposal to reinstate a $50 federal tax credit for campaign contributions, a program that would boost public participation in the campaign finance process; or the use of matching public funds to encourage state level candidates to depend on small donations from their constituents and not wealthy out-of-state interests; or lowering the donation limit to $100, a level that all citizens—not just the wealthy few—can realistically afford. 

On behalf of WISPIRG’s members, we urge to reject this inherently undemocratic bill. If you believe our campaign finance laws should be changed, then we urge you to let the people decide - bring a statewide referendum to the people and ask the people of Wisconsin whether they want you to increase contribution limits and allow more money in our elections.  One such resolution has already been introduced – Assembly Joint Resolution 50, which would allow the voters of Wisconsin to have their say on whether Wisconsin elected leaders should support a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United.  We urge you to approve this resolution and let the people decide. 

Special interest money has long had a corrosive effect on our democracy, but increasing contribution limits will only worsen this problem.  Please oppose AB225.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment today.

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