Move Over Machiavelli: Wisconsin GOP Kills Public Financing to Pay for Voter Suppression

protestYou are a new Governor pursuing a radical, budget-slashing agenda. In your spare time, you work to pass the most restrictive Voter ID law in the nation, which turns out to be quite costly. What to do? Here is an idea. To pay for your voter suppression efforts, why not rob public financing for elections, a system designed to encourage a diversity of candidates and a flourishing of democracy?

That is exactly what Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP did this week when they raided the money set aside for the public financing of campaigns to pay for "the most radical Voter ID bill in the nation" according to Wisconsin Common Cause.

The move would kill a 34 year tradition of public financing for elections in Wisconsin. All public financing for state political races would end. Instead, the fund would be used to implement AB7 a "Voter ID" bill originally spawned by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The Allegation of Fraud is Merely a Front

Republicans insist the Voter ID bill is needed to prevent fraud, but no one appears to be able to put their finger on a real problem in Wisconsin.

"Wisconsin Attorney General JB Van Hollen undertook an investigation after the 2008 presidential race and found only 20 questionable votes in an election of 2,983,417. Half of those folks were formerly convicted felons who did not know they were not allowed to vote," said Jay Heck of Wisconsin Common Cause. "Fraud has never been a problem in Wisconsin, we have an open system and people have a great deal of respect for it. The fraud issue is merely a front to prevent Democratic groupings from turning out and everyone knows it," said Heck.

The legislation would allow a narrow list of IDs for voting, including drivers licenses and state-issued ID cards. According to a 2005 UW-Milwaukee study, about 177,000 Wisconsinites aged 65 and older do not have state-issued IDs. Statewide, the percent of Wisconsin residents with a valid drivers license is 80 percent for males and 81 percent for females. For African-Americans, only 45 percent of males and 51 percent of females have a valid drivers license.

The bill makes it particularly burdensome for college students to vote, a group who overwhelmingly supported Obama in 2008. Student IDs have to be issued from an accredited public or private college, include a student's signature and have a two-year expiration date. The 182,000 thousand students in the University of Wisconsin system and 300,000 in state technical colleges currently do not meet this requirement.

Many analysts think the bill was implemented in a rush in order to have an impact on the Wisconsin Senate recall elections scheduled for July 12th. "Many voters will understandably be confused and will think that they cannot vote in the recall elections without the photo voter ID -- which is likely the intent of the bill's proponents," says Heck.

Another Wisconsin Tradition Destroyed

Wisconsin has provided some degree of public financing for campaigns since 1977. The idea was to foster a debate over ideas, not a race for the money. As a consequence, many candidates were able to run who otherwise would never have been able to, and candidates of both political parties regularly took public financing. This year, a little-known candidate named Joanne Kloppenburg was able to run for Wisconsin Supreme Court because of a public finance system for judicial races implemented two years ago. Kloppenburg came from behind to almost knock off a ten-year incumbent conservative Supreme Court Justice.

Perhaps this is exactly the type of democracy that the Wisconsin GOP is worried about. The money raided from the public financing system -- $1.8 million -- is insufficient to pay for the Voter ID bill, which is anticipated to cost $6 million over the next two years.

To Heck the tragedy is the destruction of another important Wisconsin tradition. "We were one of the first states in the nation to provide public financing for campaigns. We were held up as a model for the nation, passing public financing, open meetings laws, open records laws and the establishment of a state elections board and state ethics board after the Watergate scandal."

"What the Walker administration has done in just four months, has been to unravel decades of good government and progressive reform designed to inspire citizen confidence in state government. The whole post-Watergate reform effort has been swept away in just a few months. It's astonishing," says Heck.

But enough to make Richard Nixon proud.

Learn more: Voter Suppression Bills Sweep the Country. Take Action: Rock the Vote.

Mary Bottari

Mary Bottari is a reporter for the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). She helped launch CMD's award-winning ALEC Exposed investigation and is a two-time recipient of the Sidney Prize for public interest journalism from the Sidney Hillman Foundation.


Let me see if I get your complaint right: MY money is being used to support candidates I may not agree with morally or politically, and now that's been blocked. So MY money is now being used to make sure legally and lawfully registered voters may be assured that THEIR votes are accurately tallied, and that only LAWFULLY registered voters are altering the political landscape in which I live. Correct? What's the problem? IT'S NOT YOUR MONEY!

It was voluntary, don't you remember? The little box you (undoubtedly didn't) check on your tax form? I did want my money, what little it was, to go to supporting candidates who didn't have wealthy interests backing them. That was a small step to take toward getting a representative government. So now, *our* money, (that of those of us who contracted with the state to fund this project), will be stolen to help disenfranchise those who might vote against the money interest. Your money was never included, unless you were a good government fan. So, you didn't have it right.

With caging, excessive ID requirements, etc, backed up by unverifiable voting machines who needs to worry about mere public financing. Then the Democrats of today are nearly as sycophantic towards corporate needs as any Republican... in fact Republicans sometimes have a strain of libertarianism absent among the Dems. So why not just stay home from the polls, and more important, from work next election day to let them all know just how illegitimate such a state and national government are?

So let me counter your attack on the assessment that this raiding of the coffers is a bad idea, would it be different if it were the Democrats doing this and thy made it harder for rich white snobs in Waukesha county to vote? I would suspect that you'd all be saying it was proof that those pinko commie dems are just no good and they're trying to brainwash your children and overtrow democracy once and for all. I would be wlling to bet each and every one of you would be stocking up on ammunition for your assault rifles and heading to Madison to show those damn socialits what democracy looked like. Am I somehow mistaken here?