Larson Report
NEWSLETTER

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A Capitol Update from State Senator Chris Larson

Dear Wisconsin Neighbor,

Your voice in our government should not be determined by the size of your wallet.

As John Adams once said, "Government is instituted for the common good; for the protection, safety, prosperity, and happiness for all the people; and not for profit, honor, of private interest of anyone..."

Wisconsin was once the leader in public accountability and clean campaigns. Unfortunately, we are now locked into gerrymandered partisanship and open to a flood of corporate campaign money and potential corruption. Just one example is how much Scott Walker's donors benefited from the Foxconn legislation, while Wisconsin taxpayers are left holding the bag as Foxconn breaks promise after promise.

In this Larson Report, we'll discuss the fight for good government and fair maps in Wisconsin, and what we can do moving forward to ensure that your vote counts more than special interest money.

In Service,

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The Fight for Fair Maps
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Photo Credit: fairelectionsproject.org

The fundamental basis of our democracy is that voters choose their elected officials. Gerrymandering is a direct attack on that basic tenet. There is perhaps no better example of how gerrymandering impacts the legislature than the 2016 elections: Walker lost by roughly 1% on Nov. 6 to Tony Evers, yet he carried 63 of the state’s 99 state Assembly districts. Data shows that 64 of 99 districts are more Republican than the state as a whole.

 

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During the budget, building on our past Democratic efforts to pass a fair process for redistricting, Governor Evers proposed a non-partisan redistricting process. This would end the dangerously gerrymandered districts that are central to Republican legislators keeping an artificial grip on power. Gov. Evers also proposed a thorough and safe automatic voter registration process that would eliminate the barriers that eligible voters have increasingly faced from Republicans policies. In a dark day for democracy, Republican lawmakers quietly killed these proposals as well as blocking my budget amendment to restore public transparency to political donations.


I co-sponsored Senate Bill 288, which would provide a non-partisan, unbiased process for developing fair district maps. It is common sense that voters should choose their elected officials instead of elected officials choosing their voters.


In fact, two-thirds of Wisconsin counties have passed fair maps resolutions which represents 70% of the state's population. Yet, Republican leadership continues to ignore their constituents and refuses to let SB288 have a hearing.


I am also a cosponsor of Senate Bill 159, which would promote automatic voter registration and stop voter intimidation. While both of these proposals should be bipartisan, no Republicans have yet chosen to support them.

 

Despite these partisan roadblocks, we continue to fight for good government. Governor Evers has moved forward with making voter registration more accessible to our neighbors by directing the Department of Motor Vehicles to have better voter registration hours. Voter ID laws are a form of suppression. In a previous Larson Report, I shared details of how you need a photo ID (but not a REAL ID) to vote, the history of voter suppression in Wisconsin, and how we can protect our elections moving forward.

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Safeguarding Transparency

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Transparency is a cornerstone of democracy. The ability of lawmakers to destroy records is an invitation to corruption, but that's exactly what is happening in Madison.


The Legislature decided to exempt itself from having to retain most records. This exemption means the state’s 99 representatives and 33 senators can simply destroy or delete records in their possession that they would like to shield from public scrutiny.

 

This quirk in the law has been used by some legislators to protect constituents’ personal information, and by others to hide their communications with corporate interest groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. For example, one of my colleagues in the Senate makes it a point to delete his calendar daily.


For a state with a rich history of transparency and with technological advancement, this double standard is no longer acceptable. State lawmakers should have to comply with the same record-keeping standard they require for others.

 

The fix is easy. We can simply pass a law to delete the legislative exemption to record-keeping and bring the state Legislature in line with the Public Records Management and Preservation Program. That's why I introduced SB11. Although it has bipartisan support, so far, legislative Republicans refused to even give it a public hearing.


Unfortunately, those in power rarely give it up willingly. What’s needed is a loud and unified public demanding that lawmakers’ records be kept safe and available on request.


Getting Money Out of Politics

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With Republicans in complete control of the state legislature the last few sessions, we've seen a systematic dismantling of our tough campaign finance laws. Working with good government groups like the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, I have introduced the “Wisconsin Campaign Integrity Package," a series of seven bills (each is listed below in the "Take Action section) aimed at getting special money out of politics.


While strongly supported by my Democratic colleagues, these proposals have been met with stony silence by Republicans who are using loosened restrictions to shuffle money into campaigns at a higher rate than ever before. In fact, wealthy special interest group spending smashed previous Wisconsin fall election records with over $60 million. This is 69% higher than the $36.6 million spent in 2014 elections and more than three times the $18.9 million spent just eight years ago in the 2010 fall elections. Despite this disturbing increase, we can reverse course.

 

I believe that we can and will restore the integrity of our election process in Wisconsin. I will push my Democratic colleagues as hard as I push the Republicans to restore our laws and to make Wisconsin once again a national leader and model for clean and transparent campaigns.

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Call the legislative hotline at 1-800-362-9472 and ask for your state representatives, tell them you want to get money out of politics, that Wisconsin needs fair maps, and that transparency is paramount.

Here are the bills I have cosponsored to promote good government:

SB11 - Transparency and Records Act: This proposal would ensure the legislature follows the same record retention procedures as other bodies of state government. This bill is waiting for a hearing in the Committee on Insurance, Financial Services, Government Oversight and Courts.

 

SB75 - The Sensible Limits Act: This proposal limits contributions to PACs, legislative campaign committees, and political parties to no more than $10,000, with the exception of a candidate contributing his or her personal funds to his or her own candidate committee. This bill is waiting for a hearing in the Committee on Elections, Ethics and Rural Issues.

 

SB76Restoring Reasonable Limit Act: This proposal will decrease the individual and candidate committee contribution limit from $20,000 to $10,000 for statewide candidates. This bill is waiting for a hearing in the Committee on Elections, Ethics and Rural Issues.

 

SB77Special Interests Limitation Act: This proposal reduces by half the donation limits on political action committee contributions to candidates. This bill is waiting for a hearing in the Committee on Elections, Ethics and Rural Issues.

 

SB78 – Closing the PAC Loophole Act: This proposal closes a loophole in the legal definition of a PAC that groups use to bypass donation limits. This bill is waiting for a hearing in the Committee on Elections, Ethics and Rural Issues.

 

SB79 – Coordination Control Act: This proposal places the same financial limits on coordinated expenditures between candidates and groups as are currently in place for direct contributions. This bill is waiting for a hearing in the Committee on Elections, Ethics and Rural Issues.

 

SB80No Corporate Campaign Bribes Act: This proposal amends Wisconsin State Statutes to prohibit a corporation, cooperative association, labor organization, or federally recognized American Indian Tribe from making contributions to segregated funds established and administered by a political party or legislative campaign committee. This bill is waiting for a hearing in the Committee on Elections, Ethics and Rural Issues.

 

SB81Contribution Sunshine Act: This proposal requires any committee that receives campaign finance contributions of more than $100 cumulatively from an individual to report that individual’s place of employment and occupation, if any. This bill is waiting for a hearing in the Committee on Elections, Ethics and Rural Issues.

 

SB159, Automatic Voter Registration: ensures (with an opt-out provision) that eligible voters are registered upon receiving a driver's license. This is currently waiting for a hearing in the Committee on Elections, Ethics and Rural Issues.

 


SB288 - Ensuring Fair Maps: This proposal would ensure that voters choose their elected officials, not the other way around, by redrawing maps in a nonpartisan manner. This bill is waiting for a hearing in the Committee on Government Operations, Technology and Consumer Protection.

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