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Who’s Paying for Political Ads in Wisconsin?

A bill in the Wisconsin Legislature attempts to shed more light on the sources of money used to purchase political ads that run in the state. (Chung Sun Jung/Getty Images)
A bill in the Wisconsin Legislature attempts to shed more light on the sources of money used to purchase political ads that run in the state. (Chung Sun Jung/Getty Images)
July 26, 2017

MADISON, Wis. - A bill to require corporations and political action committees to make public their advertising buys close to an election is being introduced by Wisconsin Democrats.

While corporations may deserve a voice in the election process, Democrats have said, they also should be subject to the same reporting requirements as anyone else who participates in campaigns. Matt Rothschild, who heads the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, said such a law would shed a lot more light on campaigns.

"We really need transparency in our elections. We need to know who's paying for those ads that we see all the time at election time," he said. "We need to know who's paying for the mud that's splattering our TV screens and our computer screens and our iPhones during election season, and that's what this bill would do."

If passed, Senate Bill 354 would require corporations, political action committees and any individual who spends $500 or more on mass communication to report that information within 24 hours of purchasing that communication.

According to Rothschild, the law has clearly defined requirements.

"They're going to have to file with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission within 24 hours of any expenditure, within 60 days before the election," he said. "So, we'd be able to know right away what's going on, and that's really important."

Rothschild predicted the bill will have a tough path in the GOP-controlled state Legislature. Most Wisconsin Republicans, he said, are staunch believers in the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which essentially said corporations are people in terms of their right to make political contributions.

Rothschild and others have argued that voters have a right to know who's paying for political ads.

"One reason it's really important is because we get to know what corporations are spending," he said. "Under the Citizens United decision of 2010, corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money to tell you who to vote for, or who not to vote for."

He said he thinks more information, not less, is needed about who's buying political ads and how much they're

Read SB 354 here.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI