by League Members, Peter Nelson and Sheila Hilke
December Program: Money in Politics, Jay Heck
At the December 8th program on Money in Politics, Director of Common Cause Wisconsin, Jay Heck, updated us on the legislation passed, and some not passed, by WI Senate and Assembly in the most recent session. "Heck of a job" applied as Jay is so well versed in the fraught history of campaign financing and in Wisconsin. Heck and Common Cause Wisconsin led the statewide effort to create one of the first and the most effective on-line lobbyist reporting systems in the nation in 1998; helped to uncover and play the lead role in highlighting illegal campaign fundraising in the State Capitol that led to the criminal charging and removal from office of five top legislative leaders of both political parties in 2001-2002; led the effort to eliminate the partisan political legislative caucus staffs involved in illegal campaign activities, saving taxpayers more than $4 million per year in 2001; helped devise and led in passing legislation to establish Wisconsin's independent, non-partisan Government Accountability Board to oversee state elections, lobbying regulation and ethics in 2007.
Mr. Heck says "the destruction of the nine-year-old, non-partisan Government Accountability Board (GAB) was based on completely discredited charges, false premises, character assassination and outright falsehoods. The enactment into law of both the GAB destruction (AB 388) and campaign finance deform (AB 387) measures, in combination with the recently enacted law to exempt political crimes from being investigated under the state's John Doe process - all combine to allow political corruption to take root and flourish in Wisconsin. In secret." You can learn more at
Common Cause Wisconsin website
When I contacted Jay Heck to serve as our non-partisan speaker, he immediately asked when and where. He has worked tirelessly with Andrea Kaminski in the League's state office to educate voters about the actions of the current legislative leadership. During his presentation he emphasized that voters should not only be aware of the current legislation that was passed, but HOW it was was done. He has never seen such an abusive, rushed and disrespectful process. Information was withheld, public discussion was limited and an unexpected Friday session was orchestrated. Rather than working on job creation, funding for education, transportation, the environment or any other current voter issue, Heck felt they instead focused on consolidating political power and reducing possible threats to their offices.
The non-partisan GAB, made up of six retired judges, was created by both parties after the political corruption Peter referred to above. The independently funded entity oversaw elections and political activity, serving as a model for government excellence in the nation. The independent judges, with the support of the staff, applied the law to questions brought before them rather than checking political temperatures. Heck reminded us that they dealt with an unprecedented twelve recall elections, including the governor's race, political ethics and the reoccurring Voter ID actions. Last month that vision was dismantled into two partisan commissions, appointed and funded by the legislature: Ethics and Elections. Three political appointees from each party will be seated, allowing for a high probability of party line voting dead locks. Special Registration Deputies (SRDs), a role many League members conduct, were intended to be eliminated in favor of on-line registration. Due to voter concern, the status of the SRD's is under review.
Heck said the John Doe law has been in place since the beginning of Wisconsin's statehood. Unlike other states who use inefficient grand jury processes, a judge and district attorney effectively streamlined all investigations for Wisconsin. The current legislative leadership just removed anything in the law that served as oversight over political ethics, campaign funding and election issues, claiming that the law now infringed on their political free speech. Future voter concerns in these areas will be sent to a grand jury as an unfunded mandate for counties to absorb.
Campaign finance limits were doubled. Heck explained that now individual and corporate donors can contribute to "independent groups" that do not have to disclose the names of their contributors. The Wisconsin legislative campaign committees resources will now be minor compared to the potential available through these groups. He specifically mentioned Eric O'Keefe with the WI Club for Growth as of interest. The group spent twelve million dollars combating the Governor's recall effort. Heck also stressed that the upcoming February Supreme Court race may be more critical than the general election. Eight million was spent on the last judicial race, making February's election a "cheaper buy". He urged the League to join him in helping to educate voters. (When a 2012 Florida Voter ID law, less restrictive than Wisconsin's, went into effect, the voters turned out in record numbers to make it clear that real democratic power will remain in the hands of the citizens.)
Personal Thought: Due to unfortunate scheduling, the La Crosse Area Development Corporation (LADCO) was holding its annual economic forum in the ballroom below our second floor lunch. The media was present to cover their keynote speaker: Governor Scott Walker. None of the press found their way upstairs to cover any part of Jay Heck's presentation.