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It’s Your Vote – Not Money – that Should Count

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 11 August 2021 in Wisconsin

voteSen. Jeff Smith writes about the Ready to Amend Act, legislation he introduced last week as part of the Campaign Integrity Package to help restore faith in the electoral process.

MADISON - Last week I joined a number of other legislators to introduce the Campaign Integrity Package, legislation to help restore faith in the electoral process. We know there isn’t one quick fix to get money out of our political process, but it will take a number of changes—and the Campaign Integrity Package is a start.

Nearly every day I see or hear comments that people feel that they are without a voice and their vote doesn’t matter. It’s understandable why they feel that way. Billionaires and corporations spend unfathomable amounts of money to influence your vote. Most working Americans can’t imagine donating but a few dollars if anything. Someone who can afford to write a $1 million check to a campaign or third party group can drown out the voices of regular voters and tilt an election in their favor.

money-behind-politicsWhile money has always had too much of an influence, it was the decision in the 2010 court case of Citizens United vs. FEC (Federal Elections Commission) that really opened the flood gates by declaring corporations are “people” and money is “speech”. It was this decision by the Supreme Court of the United States that finally allowed the biggest moneyed interests to spend almost anything they wanted with very little restrictions or oversight.

Just look at the numbers. In 2016, legislative candidates and 3rd party groups spent $28.1 million. In 2018, that number increased to $35.8 million. And in 2020, both of those previous records were shattered when we saw $53.9 million in political spending.

But even with the horrendous Citizens United decision, there are simple, commonsense campaign finance reforms our state can implement in order to restore faith in our democracy:

“Campaign Contribution Limits Act” (LRB 4220): This proposal restores sensible campaign contribution limits including limiting contributions to Political Action Committees (PACs).

“Closing the PAC Loophole Act” (LRB 4221): This proposal defines a PAC, for campaign finance purposes, as a committee that includes a person, other than an individual, that spends more than $1,000 in a 12-month period on expenditures for express advocacy.

“Coordination Control Act” (LRB 4222): This proposal places the same financial limits on coordinated expenditures between candidates and groups as are currently in place for direct contributions.

“No Corporate Campaign Bribes Act” (LRB 4223): This closes the segregated fund shell game loophole used to funnel additional money to committees by prohibiting corporations, labor organizations and other such associations from contributing to funds administered by a political party or campaign committee.

“Contribution Sunshine Act” (LRB 4224): This proposal requires any committee that receives campaign finance contributions of more than $100 cumulatively from an individual to report that individual’s place of employment and occupation, if any.

“Communications Transparency Act” (LRB 4225): This proposal also provides a definition for mass communication related to campaigns and requires so-called “dark money” groups to disclose the names of their donors who have given $100 or more in the preceding 12 months.

“Ready to Amend Act” (LRB 4226): This resolution places a question on the November 2022 ballot to ask the people if Congress should propose an amendment to overturn Citizens United v. F.E.C.

jeff-smithI hear a lot of ideas about ways we can change the system. Some think term limits are the way to go, but this won’t fix how money is spent or how it influences the person elected to office. Good government happens when we end gerrymandering and make our electoral system more open and transparent.

The Campaign Integrity Bills, combined with my bill to create a non-partisan redistricting process, can improve our democratic process and end the political stranglehold of the corporate elites. It’s not too late to restore the voice of you the voter as long as the people you entrusted to represent you take action.

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