As you file your state income taxes this year, you may have noticed that for the first time in over three decades there is not an option to pitch in a dollar for clean, publically funded political campaigns in Wisconsin.
Since 1978, the Wisconsin Election Campaign Fund had provided grants to candidates who agreed to limit their fundraising and expenditures. These grants were designed to allow the average citizen, who may not otherwise have the money to run, seek office in Wisconsin. They were a symbol of Wisconsin’s long tradition of clean and open government and it showed that you need not have special interest sponsorship to get elected in this state.
These ideas were not some relic of the past, according to the Government Accountability Board. Eleven current lawmakers — seven Democrats and four Republicans — are beneficiaries of the campaign grant.
For decades, Wisconsin citizens that believed in a voice for everyone and that all ideas deserved a chance to be heard gave their support to the Wisconsin Election Campaign Fund with the trust that it would be used to further these goals. In fact, so many supported these positive ideals that before Governor Walker’s budget was passed, there was over $1.1 million in the fund.
Now the grant program, along with its $1.1 million nest egg, is gone.
The same governor who promised to put an end raiding funds and using money designated for one purpose for something else gutted the program.
Now we know the truth.
As long as the money is being used to pay off wealthy contributors and special interest groups, or to give $2.3 billion in new tax breaks for large corporations, raiding public funds is perfectly fine in the eyes of the governor and his Republican cohorts in the Legislature.
My colleagues in the Assembly and I made every effort to return the funds that were unjustly taken. A bill was offered that would have returned the $1.1 million raided from the Wisconsin Election Campaign Fund and allowed for the reimplementation of the program before the elections this fall. However, Republican leadership refused to allow the bill to move forward in committee, reaffirming its decision to violate the trust of those individuals who supported the fund.
Over the course of this Legislative session, it has become clear that Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican majorities in the Assembly and Senate care more about their corporate benefactors and special interest groups than the average citizen.
Raiding the Wisconsin Election Campaign Fund illustrates the situation well as money meant to give anyone a shot at representing their community was used to pay off the same big donors the fund was designed to offset.
When you look at your Wisconsin tax return and no longer see the check off, think of the thousands of people just like yourself who lost their voice in government because Walker had other plans for the money.
Wisconsin should be encouraging more involvement and cleaner government. Getting rid of this check off was a step in the wrong direction for our democracy. Taxpayers should be outraged that the $1.1 million fund for clean elections has been stolen — never to be returned — and the Republicans abolished the nonpartisan campaign grants.
Rep. Nick Milroy, D-South Range, represents the 73rd Assembly District in Wisconsin.Talk about it