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Voters deserve disclosure of secret money

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Melanie G. Ramey
December 14, 2010
— It is just wrong. Secret campaign cash should have no place in our elections. But this fall, we saw huge sums of money from secret sources going into campaign advertising, much of it the negative advertising that poisons the airways. Special-interest spending on elections is drowning out the voices of individual voters.

The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board has reported that independent groups spent nearly $10 million this year on elections in our state. On top of that amount, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign says it has accounted for at least $5 million in additional outside group spending in the 2010 state elections that went unreported.


Without disclosure requirements, we don’t know who is funding the advertising that affects our elections—they could be foreign governments or corporations. While some organizations claim to be doing issue advocacy, they are actually doing electioneering. They should have to register as political action committees and follow the laws requiring disclosure of their donors.


It should come as no surprise that many of the same organizations and corporations have lobbied against the DISCLOSE Act in Congress, which would stop manipulation of elections by fly-by-night anonymous hit groups, and prevent the infusion of undercover expenditures.


The League of Women Voters calls for reform at the state and federal levels to require disclosure of special interests that spend money on so-called issue ads that are really campaign ads in disguise. Congress should pass the DISCLOSE Act before it adjourns later this month.


In Wisconsin, our Legislature will be meeting in special session this month to vote on contracts for state employees. Lawmakers should take that opportunity to pass legislation requiring disclosure of the donors behind widely disseminated electioneering communications, something the Legislature failed to do before adjourning last spring. This needs to be done now in order to be in effect for the upcoming State Supreme Court elections.


Citizens deserve to know who is paying for advertising that is clearly intended to influence our elections. Voters should be able to find out if their leaders are in office to serve the public interest or the special interests. Requiring disclosure of the donors behind campaign ads that masquerade as issue advocacy is the least we can do to return our elections to the voters.


Melanie G. Ramey is president, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization that promotes informed and active participation in government. Through member-led research, public education and direct advocacy, the League works to improve public participation in the democratic process and to champion public policy goals that are beneficial to all. There are 17 local Leagues in Wisconsin. Readers can contact Ramey at lwvwisconsin@lwvwi.org.

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