Campaign finance reform bill was once law, now back at Capitol - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Campaign finance reform bill that once became law, now back at Capitol

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MADISON (WKOW) -- A campaign finance reform bill that passed the State Legislature seven years ago is now back in circulation.

That's because it was removed from state statute soon after becoming law.

The bill essentially forces out-of-state political action committees, or PACs, to disclose all of their donors the same way in-state committees do.

Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) has strong bipartisan support to pass Senate Bill 98, which increases that transparency.

"If their money is gonna be used here to try and influence an election in our state, then they should have to disclose as much information about their activities as a Wisconsin political committee," said Mike McCabe, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, the state's top campaign finance watchdog group.

Under current law, those out-of-state PACs have the ability to disclose only the donors they say gave money towards Wisconsin elections, not all of the donors that give them money.

"That left us in a position where we really couldn't tell where the money was truly coming from and there were these really elaborate shell games being used to keep everybody here in the dark about the true origins of the money," said McCabe.

Strangely, the exact same bill passed the legislature, was signed into law by then Gov. Jim Doyle and became law in 2006.

"And then a year later, under very unusual circumstances, it was simply removed from the state statutes by the Revisor of Statutes office," said McCabe.

Sen. Harsdorf tells 27 News a court ruling on an unrelated law struck down her bill as well, and she's been trying to get it passed again ever since.

But there are questions over how much it will actually do now, since the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court ruling of 2010 allowed the creation of so-called Super-PAC's, which aren't regulated the way traditional PAC's are.

"There are now ways of structuring political committees that this kind of law wouldn't touch," said McCabe.

Sen. Harsdorf admits this is just one step towards an overall solution and hopes it can pass again and stay part of state law permanently this time.

McCabe says a complete overhaul of Wisconsin's campaign disclosure laws is needed to provide complete transparency for voters, but he says that type of effort has met with some resistance from lawmakers.

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