MADISON (WKOW) -- If Wisconsin's $10,000 aggregate annual limit on campaign contributions falls as expected, wealthy donors could funnel an additional $6 million-plus to candidates and campaign committees, according to an analysis done by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon v. FEC struck down federal limits on campaign contributions an individual can make to candidates, political parties and political action committees. That is expected to pave the way for a federal judge to strike down Wisconsin's limits.
"The absence in that aggregate limit would result in a few wealthy donors seeing their ability to influence state and local elections increase exponentially," said Mike McCabe, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
"And even if they did, the legislature has determined that none of those contributions would be corrupting, because none of them would exceed the limit that is permitted for those individual races," countered Rick Esenberg, a Milwaukee attorney and founder of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.
Esenberg represents Racine businessman Fred Young, who filed a lawsuit against the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board in the U.S. District Court in Milwaukee last year to challenge the state's aggregate limit. Judge Lynn Adelman put that case on hold in February, pending the SCOTUS decision in McCutcheon. But with that case settled, it is all but certain the state limits will be overturned.
While limits on what donors can give to individual candidates would remain in place, wealthy donors could give the maximum amount allowed to every individual candidate it wanted to in every race.
In other words, the limit on contributions to a candidate for Governor or another state office, such as Attorney General, would remain at $10,000. But in the past, a person donating $10,000 to a single candidate for Governor wouldn't have been able to donate to any other candidate in any other race, because they would have reached the aggregate limit. Without that limit, a wealthy person could donate $10,000 to every state candidate, $1,000 to as many state senate candidates as they want and $500 to as many state assembly candidates as they want. They could also donate far more to state political party committees and state political action committees.
According to the Democracy Campaign, if the $10,000 aggregate limit hadn't been in place in 2012, wealthy donors could have given at least $6.8 million each to candidates in about 4,700 state and local races, 319 PACs and 164 political party committees.
Esenberg calls that a "sky is falling" scenario which would never happen. But he says there will be more money coming into the hands of candidates, which is a good thing.
"Because now somebody who wants to spend money, won't have to give it to independent organizations. They'll be able to give it to candidates. Those contributions will be disclosed," said Esenberg.
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