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Political Conduits: Pouring Millions Into Wisconsin Elections

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Monday, September 23, 2013   

MADISON, Wis. - The use of political conduits - check-bundling operations that combine donations from a number of people and send a single contribution to a candidate - is growing in Wisconsin politics. There is no limit on how much a conduit can pass along to a candidate.

Mike McCabe of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign warned of dangers in this practice.

"It's a way of really effectively laundering special-interest campaign money and removing the stain of special-interest influence," McCabe explained.

In the last election cycle, conduits poured $3.7 million into campaigns. Ten years ago, conduit contributions accounted for less than $1 million. McCabe pointed to additional advantages for those trying to influence the outcome of elections, as well.

"There's the lack of disclosure, but there's also the unlimited donations. You put those two things together, and it's really a tool that special-interest groups are growing more fond of all the time," McCabe said.

It is easier for candidates to hide money coming from conduits, because instead of showing up as one big contribution on campaign finance reports, they show up as smaller individual donations.

McCabe said both parties do it.

"The Republicans have a distinct advantage overall in conduit contributions, so more money is flowing to the Republican side," he said, "but if you look at the single biggest conduit of all, it happens to be one that favors Democrats."

According to McCabe, what is at stake is the people's right to know who is pouring money into elections.

"It's really that combination: the sheer volume of money that flows through this pipeline, and the other problem of how hard it is for the public to get a grasp on who's supplying the money. It's really a lethal combination," McCabe warned.


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