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Referendum threshold bill sets uncertain target

By Paul Snyder

Although many people agree that $25 is too little an amount to contribute or accept for purposes of a referendum vote, lawmakers are not sure how much higher they should raise the threshold.

“We’re trying to create a balance in this state between small-town love and urban love,” said state Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee. “It’s not easy.”

The Senate Committee on Judiciary, Corrections, Insurance, Campaign Finance Reform and Housing, of which Taylor is chairwoman, will hold a public hearing Wednesday about raising the threshold to $750.

Current law sets the reporting threshold at $25 for groups or individuals that every group that make or accept contributions, incur obligations, or spends money to influence the outcome of a state or local referendum.

The state’s Government Accountability Board asked lawmakers to consider changing that this year after a U.S. District judge ruled the $25 threshold unconstitutional and too oppressive, and the state spent $70,000 defending the threshold. The board said leaving the threshold at $25 leaves the state open to more lawsuits.

But state Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, said $750 might be too high and suggested $200.

Taylor said she is not stuck to the $750 threshold the bill stipulates, and could set it higher or lower after Wednesday’s hearing.

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