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Money & Democracy Update: Fear and loathing in Wisconsin

Stunning Statistics of the Week:

  • Percentage of voters polled by SurveyUSA who say it is important for a candidate to commit to reducing the lobbyist influence over laws: 89 percent
  • Percentage of Republicans who say it is important: 87 percent

After Wisconsin groups sue over elections rules, state backs down

Three lawsuits in 10 days have prompted Wisconsin state elections officials to weaken a disclosure rule enacted in the wake of U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which gave corporations a green light to spend unlimited sums of money to influence elections. The suits were filed by nearly a dozen groups from across the political spectrum. All claimed that their First Amendment rights were being violated. One of the rules challenged was the state’s new disclosure rule, which took effect earlier this month and required groups that run ads for or against political candidates to disclose the identities of their funders. The rule also required disclosure of backers of “issue ads,” those ads that mention candidates’ stands on issues but don’t urge a vote for or against the candidate. After the groups went to court, the state Government Accountability Board said that no disclosure would be required for issue ads. Despite this, two of the cases are expected to continue. FYI, the attorney involved in one of the Wisconsin suits, James Bopp Jr., sued recently to overturn Maine’s public funding of elections law. See an analysis of the organized effort to target laws limiting corporate influence in elections.

And in related Wisconsin news …

Wisconsin’s attorney general says that the Citizens United ruling has invalidated that state’s campaign finance laws that prohibit corporations from spending on campaigns. Last year’s gubernatorial elections in Wisconsin cost $30 million; experts say this year’s race could cost more than $90 million.

Chamber faces suit over handling of campaign contributions

An attorney who has sued the U.S. Chamber of Commerce before is gearing up to sue again. Bob Fitrakis, who sued the Chamber over an Ohio group it created to sway a judicial election in that state, has asked attorneys at the Chamber and American Crossroads – a group run by Republican strategist Karl Rove and designed to collect cash to influence elections – to retain all their records. Fitrakis maintains that the Chamber uses front groups to disguise donations and maintains that American Crossroads is directly linked to the Chamber. Meanwhile, a letter from a Chamber whistleblower alleges the Chamber promises funders their identities won’t be revealed.

In related news, Chamber backs Fiorina, makes Illinois attack ad

Calling Republican candidate Carly Fiorina “a rock star,” the Chamber of Commerce endorsed her for the U.S. Senate seat held by Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). The race for Boxer’s seat is one of the Senate races the Chamber is focused on; the group is expected to spend as much as $75 million to influence congressional races this year. In fact, the Chamber’s political machine is already running. Here’s a Chamber-funded attack ad against Alexi Giannoulias, Democratic candidate for an Illinois Senate seat.

Colorado primary race had corporate influence theme

Which candidate is least beholden to corporations? That was the theme in the Colorado Democratic primary race for the seat held by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet. Bennet’s challenger, former statehouse Speaker Andrew Romanoff, refused to take political action committee money for this race and criticized Bennet for taking corporate money. Bennet countered that Romanoff took PAC money for much of his career and even ran his own PAC. In the end, Bennet won the primary.

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