Daily Union: Jorgensen seeks to restore public funds
Staff, AP reports
MADISON - A Democratic state lawmaker along with government watchdog advocates is pushing to restore public financing for elections that was eliminated by Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans.
State Rep. Andy Jorgensen, of Fort Atkinson, said Monday that the Wisconsin Election Campaign Fund should be restored and the $1.1 million it had in it should be replaced. The money was taken to be used for expenses related to implementing the new law requiring photo identification at the polls.
Money for public financing came from voluntary income tax check-offs.
Jorgensen unveiled his proposal Monday and says he hopes Republicans will back it.
"When Governor Walker and Republicans ran for office, they railed against raids of segregated funds," he said. "When they were faced with the task of balancing the state's budget, they swiped $1.1 million in monies set aside by Wisconsin taxpayers specifically for the public financing of elections. They weren't true to their word or to the will of the people, and I won't stand for it."
Jorgensen's legislative proposal provides $1.1 million of general purpose revenue to the re-establishment of the Wisconsin Election Campaign Fund, setting parameters identical to what was in place prior to the passage of the state budget. Under this plan, candidates for state offices who agree to limit their campaign expenditures and contributions, fulfill all reporting requirements, win the primary with at least 6 percent of the vote and have an opponent who would be eligible for public financing dollars.
State Senate candidates could receive $15,525 and State Assembly candidates could receive $7,763. The plan also would allow taxpayers to continue to "check-off" $1 on their state income tax returns, money which sponsors the WECF.
"When people checked that box on their tax forms, they were directing their money for one thing and one thing only - to help regular folks run for office," said Jorgensen. "It was up to them to decide how their money would be spent, not the governor. He should put the money back."
Directors of Common Cause Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign praised Jorgensen's proposal, saying the old system was flawed but it was better than having nothing at all.
"The majority party in the Legislature has - either deliberately or unwittingly - seriously undermined an almost 35-year-old tradition of honest, open and accountable state government with this change," said Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin. "Rep. Jorgensen's proposal restores funds that were designated by Wisconsin taxpayers for public financing of state elections which we all know can and should be improved, not destroyed."
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Executive Director Mike McCabe agreed.
"Hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin taxpayers designated some of their taxes to go for public financing of elections," he said. "Disregarding this clear expression on taxpayer intent and using this money for another purpose was an act of profound disrespect to those taxpaying citizens.
"That disrespect was magnified when they not only eliminated the income tax check-off and redirected the funds, but they used the money for something many, if not most, of these taxpayers find repugnant - implementation of the new law requiring voters to have a photo ID in order to cast a ballot," McCabe added.
Jorgensen notes that, while he has not accepted public financing in elections past, current state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have participated in the WECF program. According to information provided by the Government Accountability Board, the list includes Reps. Barca, Bernier, Clark, Cullen, Hintz, Kessler, Krusick, Loudenbeck, Steineke, and Senators Carpenter and Lasee.
"Fundraising is one of the biggest disadvantages for challengers running against incumbents," said Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh. "In my first campaign, public financing allowed me the opportunity to be competitive and actually talk with voters instead of raising money. After forcing their ideological agenda on the state, Republicans seem to believe the only way they can win in 2012 is to game our election system to their advantage."
Jorgensen now is asking his colleagues in the Senate and Assembly to sign on to his plan to restore the WECF; he plans to formally introduce the bill next week.
"Wisconsinites believe in the little guy, the underdog - and in order to give candidates of modest means a chance to run for elected office, they have supported our public financing for more than 30 years," Jorgensen said. "My plan aims to continue that tradition, and I hope to have bipartisan backing."