Debra Kolste: Republicans closing session with new assaults on democracy

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Rep. Debra Kolste
Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Wisconsin legislative majority is spending the last days of its deliberations working to make it harder to vote, easier to give money to politicians and easier for outside groups and individuals to anonymously spend millions on political campaigns.

The Legislature has few session days left. Wisconsin ranks 37th in the nation in job growth, 45th in projected job growth and 48th in new business created. Instead of concentrating on jobs and the economy, we’re blocking voters and making it easier to squeeze lobbyists.

Senate Bills 654 and 655 were introduced on a Monday, and SB 655 was scheduled for a full Senate vote just eight days later. That kind of haste seems designed to limit public input, as well as sober, thoughtful deliberation on these controversial proposals.

SB 654 makes into law what is already the practice: allowing special-interest groups to spend millions on political ads without disclosing who paid for them.

I don’t believe the people of Wisconsin want a law protecting unlimited political spending from disclosure. The law benefits only the wealthy interests, not the average Wisconsin citizen.

SB 655 allows lobbyists to take checks from political donors and hand them over to candidates as early as April 15, even if the Legislature is still in session. Currently, lobbyists can give money to candidates between June 1 and Election Day. Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, an elections watchdog group, criticized what he says will be the stronger connection between writing laws and fundraising.

Failure to quickly funnel lobbyist cash to candidates should rank pretty low on our list of problems. No constituent of mine has complained that lobbyists can’t fork over cash to politicians fast enough.

The ink had barely dried on those bills when Sen. Glenn Grothman of West Bend offered LRB 4050, which ends voter registration at the polls. This bill is another transparent attempt to keep people from voting by making it more expensive and less convenient.

Sen. Grothman says he worries about a “backlog” at the polls, what with many registering on Election Day. But his Republican colleagues have introduced bills to eliminate in-person absentee voting and limit voting hours. If Republicans were worried about backlogs, they wouldn’t be pushing these ideas.

Bills such as these appear to be part of the majority’s anti-democracy agenda, which includes packing the Government Accountability Board with partisan appointees and refusing to consider reforming the partisan redistricting process.

These measures increase the power of wealthy interest groups and discourage voting by the young, the elderly and the poor. They are crafted to keep the current crop of legislators in office and in power.

The problem isn’t that too many are voting—it is that too few are working. Our state deserves better priorities than shaking down lobbyists and enshrining dark money contributions into law.

Rep. Debra Kolste, D-Janesville, represents the 44th Assembly District. Readers can contact her at P.O. Box 8952, Madison, WI 53708; phone 888-947-0044; email Rep.Kolste@legis.Wisconsin.gov.

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