Republican raid of campaign fund hurts taxpayers, underdogs
It’s in our nature to root for the underdog. That’s why the “Rocky” movies were so popular and part of the reason we all know the story of David versus Goliath. Maybe that love of the little guy is why people all over the country find themselves in green and gold, cheering on our beloved Green Bay Packers.
And maybe that’s why so many of us think public financing of elections is a good idea. We believe that a person of humble means can be a good leader, that special-interest sponsorship is not necessarily an indicator of the strongest candidate.
Wisconsin used to be a leader when it came to clean and fair elections.
In fact, in 1978, our state developed the Wisconsin Election Campaign Fund (WECF), a program that provided grants for candidates who agreed to limit their fundraising and expenditures. Senate candidates could receive $15,525, and Assembly candidates could get $7,763. While those grants are modest, they have proven effective. According to the Government Accountability Board, 11 current lawmakers—seven Democrats and four Republicans—have received public financing in recent years.
During the past 33 years, Wisconsin taxpayers have kept the WECF—and the concept of elections run for and by the people—alive by checking the box on their income tax forms that directed a dollar to public financing. Their checkmarks really added up, and at the start of this year, the Wisconsin Election Campaign Fund had accrued $1.1 million.
But now, the account is empty and the program is no more.
You see, despite the fact Gov. Scott Walker and legislative Republicans railed against raids of segregated funds in the last election cycle, when they were faced with the task of balancing the state’s budget, they swiped the money taxpayers had set aside for public financing. Republicans weren’t true to their word or to the will of the people.
Some may say the move was necessary, that the state was in dire straits. I argue, if we didn’t have the money for public financing, we shouldn’t have had the money for the additional $1 billion in budget spending made by Gov. Walker.
Now, if we are to do right by the people of Wisconsin and ensure clean and fair elections in the future, we must not allow the Wisconsin Election Campaign Fund to come to an end.
I have taken action, introducing a bill that would return the $1.1 million raided from the WECF and reimplement the program. The plan’s simplicity would allow for our public financing system to be back up and running before the next campaign cycle, if we all can work together.
The dollars taken from the Wisconsin Election Campaign Fund were never the state’s to use. They were yours, given in the hope that the underdogs and the little guys—not just the well-connected and wealthy—could guide the future of our state. It’s time we put the money back and restore some measure of the public trust.
Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson, represents the 37th Assembly District, which covers parts of Jefferson and Dane counties. Readers can contact him at P.O. Box 8952, Madison, WI 53708; phone 1-888-534-0037; email rep.Jorgensen@legis.Wisconsin.gov.