Bad lobby law, badly written, needs to be changed

GUEST OPINION

NOT ONLY DO LEGISLATORS write bad laws, but they write laws badly, as well. That’s the kindest interpretation from the latest development on the question of when lobbyists can hand over political contributions to legislators.

The Government Accountability Board determined last week that a bill passed in March adjusting the time frame for handing over money was so poorly drafted that lobbyists can deliver checks anytime, including when the Legislature is dealing with the state budget and major legislation. That practice has been barred for years during the legislative session; until this change, lobbyists weren’t allowed to make personal donations or pass along money from contributors except in the months before an election. Legislators and lobbyists couldn’t even talk about such fundraising.

The ban went away on June 1 of election years - giving lobbyists about five months to gather cash for candidates.

But, always interested in more flexibility when it comes to campaign cash, legislators this year moved to adjust state law. They looked at loosening the law in two ways — by allowing lobbyists to pass on checks at any time and by moving up the deadline when they could make personal contributions to April 15 of election years.

But senators were soon backing off from that position, moving up the date only for personal contributions and keeping other aspects of that law in place. The rewritten version of the measure was passed by both houses, and Gov. Scott Walker signed it in March.

But in recent weeks, officials determined the law said something other than what legislators claimed they intended. It’s a complex law and interpretations have varied, even by the same body. The result has been confusion and last week’s ruling by the Government Accountability Board.

The law barring contributions during sessions was enacted for a good reason; it helps strengthen the necessary divide between legislating and campaigning. It’s a good government measure that needs to be reinstated.

The Legislature should take up this issue when it reconvenes in January, and this time write a bill that is clear in its meaning. Better yet, it should simply go back to the way things were before this piece of nonsense was passed. - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 26

At issue:
Recently-passed lobby law
Bottom line:
Clear as mud


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