Tuesday, March 4, 2014

More WisGOP dark money shenanigans

I was looking at the Wisconsin Legislature's Committee Calendar today, and noted the Senate's Elections and Urban Affairs was having a hearing tomorrow. Since I always worry about what type of crap Republicans might do to the vote, I clicked on the agenda for tomorrow's hearing, and noticed new bills titled:

SB 654
Relating to: Disclosure of election activity

SB 655
Relating to: Various changes in the campaign finance and lobbying laws

Then I noticed both laws were sponsored by Senators Mary Lazich and Scott Fitzgerald, two of the biggest backers of voter suppression and corruption out there, and I sensed that there was absolutely nothing good that could be coming up from these bills. I was right, as both bills are ridiculous attempts to rig the electoral process by increasing secrecy and reducing the disclosure of campaign donators and related activities.

First off is SB 654, which is an attempt to say certain political groups and speech really isn't really political. As the Legislative Reference Bureau summarizes
Currently, with certain exceptions, individuals who accept contributions, organizations that make or accept contributions, and individuals who or organizations that incur obligations or make disbursements for the purpose of influencing an election for state or local office are required to register with the appropriate filing officer or agency and to file financial reports with that officer or agency, regardless of whether they act in conjunction with or independently of any candidate who is supported or opposed. Currently, in the case of a committee or group that is organized primarily for the purpose of influencing the election or nomination for election of any individual to state or local office, for the purpose of influencing the recall from or retention in office of an individual holding a state or local office, or for the purpose of influencing a particular vote in a referendum, all administrative and overhead expenses for the maintenance of an office or staff that are used principally for any such purpose are deemed to be for a political purpose.

This bill provides that registration and reporting requirements apply to any communication that contains certain explicit terms with reference to a clearly identified candidate that expressly advocates the election or defeat of that candidate and unambiguously relates to that candidate. The bill also provides that these requirements do not apply to an expenditure made by an individual other than a candidate, or by an organization that is not organized exclusively for a political purpose if the expenditure does not expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate or the adoption or rejection of a question at a referendum. In addition, under the bill, administrative and overhead expenses by a committee or group are deemed to be for a political purpose only if the committee or group is organized exclusively for the purpose of influencing an election or nomination, a recall or retention in office, or a particular referendum vote. The change in the scope of reportable activity under the bill also affects contribution limitations and prohibitions by causing the term "contribution" to exclude the cost of any communication that is not reportable under the bill.
I also note that the bill lists 8 "magic words" that make certain speech "political", and a specific passage that says the organization making certain types of speech don't have to file under disclosure laws if it's
..an expenditure made for the purpose of supporting or defending a person who is being investigated for, charged with or convicted of a criminal violation of state or federal law, or an agent or dependent of such a person.
Gee, I wonder who that could be? Especially since we know that John Doe Deux happens to not only be investigating potential crimes that were committed for Scott Walker during the recall elections of 2012, they're also looking in Scott Fitzgerald's home area of Dodge County, and Scott Fitzgerald also had to face the voters in the 2012 recall elections. Sens. Lazich and Fitzgerald's bills basically allow an outside Astroturf group to do a online and unaccountable campaign similar to the Koch Brothers' Americans for Prosperity's "It's Working" campaign from 2012, and not have to reveal who they are, or have to report it as the in-kind contribution to a candidate that it is. You don't think the guys creating this bill have worked out a deal with some Koch-like dark-money group that wants to run ads defending certain John Doe targets, but doesn't want to be associated with the ads? Seems pretty obvious to me.

SB 655 may be even worse. Not only does it allow a much higher dollar threshold before any organization has to report what it spent to the GAB or even report that the political group is getting into the game, it also gives candidates extra time before they have to report last-minute contributions and expenses in campaigns (allowing for the lie to get around the block before people know who said it). It also has a remarkable passage allowing for more unregulated political activities on the Internet.
Currently, with certain exceptions, payments for political communications are subject to disclosure under the campaign finance law, regardless of the medium that is used to conduct the communications. Payments for Internet communications are treated like payments for other communications. Currently, the cost of news stories, political interviews, editorial commentary, or endorsements, regardless of the medium by which they are distributed, are not contributions or disbursements and therefore are not reportable. The costs of communications by an organization other than a political party or personal campaign committee that are limited to the organization's members, shareholders, or subscribers are generally not reportable. In addition, all services for a political purpose by an individual on behalf of a campaign finance registrant are not reportable and are not subject to the current prohibition on contributions and disbursements by corporations and cooperatives unless the individual performing the services is compensated specifically for those services.

This bill provides that any cost incurred to conduct Internet activity is not a contribution or disbursement, and is therefore not reportable if it is performed by an individual acting in his or her own behalf, or acting in behalf of another person, and if the individual is not compensated specifically for his or her services. This includes the cost or value of any equipment and services used by the individual to conduct the activity, but does not include professional video production services purchased by the individual. The bill similarly provides that any cost incurred in covering a news story, commentary, or editorial by a broadcasting station, cable television operator, producer, or programmer, Internet site, or newspaper or other periodical publication, including an Internet or other periodical publication, except the cost of a news story that appears in a medium that is owned by a candidate, candidate's authorized committee, or political party, is not a contribution or disbursement and is therefore not reportable.... The bill provides however, that the following are not disbursements, and are therefore not reportable: a) a communication or Internet activity by an individual acting in his or her own behalf (or claiming they are acting on their own, even when they're being paid and told what to say), or acting in behalf of another person if the individual is not compensated specifically for those services, including the cost or value of any electronic equipment and services used by the individual to conduct the activity; or b) a nominal fee paid for a communication to the general public.
It basically tries to claim that "individuals" doing political speech on the Internet do not have to file any campaign contribution literature- even if they are clearly acting at the behest of a political candidate. Sounds like the GOPs are trying to invent a way to avoid disclosing payments to fake posters on comment sites and allowing pro-candidate Astroturf sites to be set up. Convicted criminal Brian Pierick commenting on JSonline as "Wi_Calvin" and setting up "Scottforgov.com" at Scott Walker's request comes to mind.

If this type of evasion of exposure and accountability sounds familiar, it should. It's how the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin and other fake front groups were set up to hide the oligarchs who really fund them and call their shots. These bills are designed to give more ways to hide the source of political speech, and any groups and politicans that support this kind of thing are revealing themselves to be gutless crooks.

The fact that Crazy Mary Lazich and Fitz the Elder are trying to sneak this legislation through with minimal notice is another indication that even in their warped, right-wing bubble-world, they know these bills are sketchy as hell. Let's shine the spotlight on these cockroaches, and watch them scatter away when they try to justify this.

1 comment:

  1. Jake,

    Word from State Senator Dale Schultz' (R-Richland Center) office is that these are "bad bills" and the GOP's legislative equivalent of "March Madness." Schultz is against the bills.

    I don't have anything on specifically if the bills would be applied to protect possible illegal past behavior, but this does seem plausible of course. Imagine the GOP using public policy to protect criminal and anti-public interests.

    Good piece.