Further illustration of the inadequacy of the campaign finance laws is provided by the formation of super PACs. A super PAC is formed by pooling together many PACs that will make independent expenditure. This creates a disclosure problem because when there are contributors from outside Wisconsin it becomes near impossible to trace the source of campaign money (WSIDC, 2006). Currently the spending limits set in the 1970s have not been adjusted fro inflation since 1986, the $1 check-off system has also not been adjusted leading to decreased taxpayer participation in contributions toward candidates (McCabe, 2002).
In 2004 about 63% of contributions from campaigns came from less than 1% of eligible voters. For most Wisconites contribution to the campaign is seen as an unaffordable luxury (Speer, 2007). The vicious cycle of a few deep-pocketed interest groups providing the campaign funds thus continues, making the perception that campaign fund sources and legislative action or inaction are related undeniable. (Speer, 2007). The increasing importance of money in Wisconsin politics has led to a centralization of power in a legislature that was previously among the most decentralized in the country.
The perception that the spending limits are extremely low and unrealistic has led to most candidates abandoning the system and refusing to accept public grants that are accompanied by spending limits. Their refusal can be understood since the cost of running for office has been on the rise in recent years and a candidate who cannot access large amounts of funds will most likely lose since they may not be able to get their message out there .
The increase in money spent has compromised the electoral process in various ways. To begin with, there has been a rise in the number of uncontested races for legislature. The voters therefore do not have much of a meaningful choice at the ballot box (McCabe, 2002) The process of policy making has also been distorted by the current campaign finance laws. The state budget is made in such a way that it benefits special interest groups whose campaign contributions were made to the elected legislators.
In a bid to remove special interest money from politics, proponents of reforms have similar goals in mind which include attempts to impose spending limits, proposing adequate public funding, placing emphasis on disclosure of election-related activities and placing restrictions on fund-raising activities (Speer, 2007). The clean money approach is one of the reform strategies geared at achieving these goals. Clean money is money donated to a candidate without any special interests attached.
The money is usually publicly granted, coming from state coffers filled by Wisconsin taxpayers who use the income tax check-off system. In Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Election Campaign Fund was set up for the purpose of limiting candidate spending and self-contribution. The amount available in the WECF fund dictates how much the candidate will receive, but ideally the candidate ought to receive up to 45% of the campaigns achievable budget. The clean money reform proposal grants each candidate money but the candidate has to meet certain qualifications.
The candidate needs to collect a specific number of signatures and small contributions from voters in his/ her area. Candidates who use this method are allowed to raise a limited amount of seed money in small private contributions to help cover the costs of collecting qualifying contributions. Upon agreeing not to spend private money the candidates receive the set amount from the elections fund and under the federal bills also get free and a discounted TV and/ or radio time (www.
massvote. org/) Among the states that have adopted this system are Arizona, Mine and Vermont. It has resulted in decreased spending and reduced influence of outside money. More importantly, it has freed the candidates to do actual campaigning rather than dollar chasing (www. massvote. org/) As a result, more people have been encouraged to run. Wisconsin already ahs the machinery for such a system set up, all it needs are some changes to the present system.
Some recommendations include, replacing or augmenting the tax check-off system so that candidates who qualify are awarded maximum grants, raising voluntary spending limits for candidates who participate in the public financing program to enable tem to get their message out and finally implementing matching funds so that candidates using public grants are not outspent by high spending candidates who choose to raise funds privately (WSIDC, Brennan Center Report, 2007).
The clean money reform has great potential to bring change because it provides limited but sufficient funding for qualified candidates without making them beholden to anyone. It also provides a level playing field financially making running for a seat an option that is open to more people and also giving the voter the opportunity for meaningful choice at the ballot box. It also promotes democracy since no candidate is pressured to agree to the system rather they have the option of using it or utilizing private funds.
Clean Money Campaign, retrieved from http://www.dawninfo.org