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Accountability Board Votes to Advance “Issue Ad” Rule Requiring Disclosure of Contributions for Political Ads

January 15, 2009

MADISON, WI – The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board Thursday took another step toward promulgation of a rule to require disclosure of contributors who fund previously unregulated political communications, commonly referred to as “issue ads.”

The Board’s action sends the rule to the Legislative Council for technical review.  After that review, the Board can hold a final public hearing on the final version of the rule.

“This is a significant step for Wisconsin,” said new G.A.B. Chairman Michael Brennan.  “This will address advertising that is often extremely expensive and that everyone knows is political in nature, but whose sponsors escape public scrutiny because they avoid using a specific word that could bring it within campaign finance regulations.”

“In approving the promulgation of this rule, the Government Accountability Board is simply enforcing the clear directive of the Wisconsin Legislature,” said Ethics and Accountability Division Administrator Jonathan Becker.

In Chapter 11 of Wisconsin’s statutes the Legislature clearly stated its intent to make Wisconsin’s system of campaign finance regulation comprehensive and completely open, Becker said. 

 “The state has a compelling interest in designing a system for fully disclosing contributions and disbursements made on behalf of every candidate for public office, and in placing reasonable limitations on such activities,” says the Legislative declaration of policy in Section 11.001, Wis. Stats.  Political advertising may therefore be subject to regulation, the law states.  It continues:

“When the true source of support or extent of support is not fully disclosed, or when a candidate becomes overly dependent upon large private contributors, the democratic process is subjected to a potential corrupting influence.”

The Board’s action puts the rule on track for review by the Legislature.  The G.A.B. vote endorses a formal public hearing for March 30, 2009, if the Wisconsin Legislative Council report is completed in a timely manner in the interim.