GOP rule rewrite allows fundraising during budget sessions

Matt Pommer  Wisconsin Newspaper Association

Assembly Republican leaders have changed rules on campaign fund-raising, allowing members to collect campaign cash while the Legislature is considering the biennial budget.

Under the change Assembly members will be able to hold fund-raisers anywhere but Dane County. The change was made on a paper ballot by the Assembly Organization Committee.

Government watchdog organizations held their noses, calling it a step backward for state government.

Allowing legislators to ask for campaign donations while the budget is being discussed creates a public perception that donors can "buy favoritism," said Jay Heck of Common Cause." The ban on budget session fund-raising had been developed in 2009

Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, said the change created a "pay-to-play" mentality in the State Capitol. "What they've done is a big step back- ward. It opens the door to active fundraising by members during the budget process."

Indeed, the Assembly Republicans don't have to shake the financial trees to retain their partisan control of the lower house. The 2012 legislative elections were held under the district lines created in the wake of the 2010 census.

Republicans drafted the new lines. It marked the first time in a half-century that one party in Wisconsin drew the legislative boundaries for the next decade of elections. The vote totals suggest how well the Republicans have positioned themselves for the next decade.

In statewide elections Wisconsin voters favored President Obama by 7 percentage points and elected Democrat Tammy Baldwin to the U.S. Senate. Baldwin defeated Tommy Thompson, who had won four gubernatorial elections. Obama carried the state despite Wisconsin Republican congressman Paul Ryan being the GOP's vice-presidential candidate.

Despite the presidential and U.S. Senate votes, Republicans won a 59-39 margin in the Assembly last November. Their districting efforts were so good the Republicans seem poised to control the Assembly at least until 2022. (In the 2012 general election, Democrats turned over control of the state Senate to Republicans who now control the chamber.

Why rush to raise funds now? It might just be to discourage primary election challenges in the now solid Republican districts.

Evaluating the Obama-Baldwin results, Republicans are concerned that Gov. Scott Walker's re-election won't be a slam-dunk political event despite conservative pundits who are talking about Walker being either the GOP presidential or vice-presidential candidate in 2016.

Walker won the gubernatorial election in 2010 by promising to create 250,000 more jobs in Wisconsin in four years. The state is lagging behind neighboring states in job growth, and many are skeptical of the 250,000 figure

"It a very difficult row-to-hoe right now, to be very honest," Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said recently. "But Gov. Walker made the promise. Assembly Republicans - we didn't make the promise."

Republicans hope a voter ID law will help Walker in 2014. The law, being challenged in the courts, would require potential voters to have a photo ID to get a ballot. The belief is that the requirement would serve as an obstacle to voting for some citizens who might otherwise cast votes for Democrats

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