by Heather Asiyanbi
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Rep. Cory Mason testified Wednesday before the Senate Committee on Elections and Urban Affairs about campaign finance reform and a measure to move voter registration online.
AB225 passed the Assembly in June on a voice vote.
In short, Robin J. Vos, R-Burlington, and Cory Mason, D-Racine, support increasing the individual contribution ceiling for political campaigns to level a playing field where third parties are not held to the same standards.
“While we believe that outside groups and committees have a place in election advocacy, political campaigns should primarily be about the voters and those seeking office,” they said. “AB 225 increases contribution limits so that individuals can donate more to candidates, thereby increasing transparency and accountability.”
More, the bill also increases the amount and frequency of information available to the public as well as requires biennial ethics training for both “lobbyists and legislators, and require state agency employees report specific bills on which they lobby the legislature.”
As for online voter registration, Vos and Mason point to 20 other states that already participate in online registration with bipartisan support.
They envision a system that closely mirrors the current mail-in version except online, registrations will be immediately checked against state Department of Transportation records. If a person’s identity cannot be confirmed, the registration will not be processed.
“Since online registration is also going to be more convenient, the result will be a significant reduction in the number of incomplete or invalid registration forms submitted to clerks,” Vos and Mason said.
Here is the full text of their testimony:
Chair Lazich and members of the Senate Committee on Elections and Urban Affairs: Thank you for holding a hearing on Assembly Bill 225; a bipartisan agreement to update our campaign finance laws and modernize our elections process.
We would like to begin by commending former Representative Stone, Representatives Bernier, Berceau, Kessler, Barca, and the members of the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections for their work on this bill.
The substitute amendment before you today is the product of bipartisan cooperation and compromise. It is proof that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle can find middle ground.
At its core, AB 225 can be broken down into two main components: the modernization of the election process, and increased transparency in campaign finance. We are happy to answer any questions about the bill, but would first like to give you an overview of its major components, beginning with the increases to contribution limits.
The current contribution limits have been stagnant since the early 1970s. If your $1,000 state senate limit was adjusted for inflation, it would be well over $4,500 today. At first, one may think that the current limits would level the playing field and give a stronger voice to the little guy.
However, as a result of our outdated contribution limits, money that would otherwise go to candidates and political parties instead goes to anonymous 3rd party groups. By law, these groups cannot coordinate with candidates, yet they use independent expenditures to influence races.
While we believe that outside groups and committees have a place in election advocacy, political campaigns should primarily be about the voters and those seeking office.
AB 225 increases contribution limits so that individuals can donate more to candidates, thereby increasing transparency and accountability.
There are additional transparency measures in AB 225. The bill boosts the frequency and amount of campaign finance and ethics information provided to the public. Our plan would require default campaign finance reporting to be quarterly instead of biennially, and require an extra report between the fall primary and general election.
AB 225 would also mandate biennial ethics training for both lobbyists and legislators, and require state agency employees report specific bills on which they lobby the legislature.
We believe that all of these changes will empower voters by arming the public with information it needs to ensure that state officials are accountable to the citizens of our state.
AB 225, as amended, also contains many updates to election administration.
Most notably, the bill includes an important change to make voter registration simpler and more accurate by allowing voters to register through a secure online website. Roughly 20 other states, led by both Democrats and Republicans, have passed similar legislation, providing extra security, cost-savings, and greater efficiency compared to current methods.
The new online registration process will closely mirror the current mail-in registration process. However, unlike mail-in registrations, online registrants will be immediately cross-checked with DOT’s database to verify their identity. If DOT records don’t confirm the person’s identity, the online registration won’t be processed.
This sort of real-time identity verification is not available through current methods, and should decrease our reliance on less accurate methods of registration. Since online registration is also going to be more convenient, the result will be a significant reduction in the number of incomplete or invalid registration forms submitted to clerks.
Finally, the bill puts controls on the scheduling of referenda so that they are held on previously scheduled election days. This common-sense proposal will not only increase efficiency and save taxpayer dollars, but should also increase voter participation.
Thank you for your time and attention to this important bipartisan legislation. We would be happy to answer any questions.