Legislative and industry skepticism is stacking up against a bill that would prohibit contractors on state projects from contributing to political campaigns.
State Rep. Marlin Schneider, D-Wisconsin Rapids, said he is willing to amend his bill, which in its current state would prohibit any officer or substantial owner of a company from contributing to the campaign of an incumbent governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, state senator or state representative. Violators could face a $1,000 fine or six months in prison.
“I don’t introduce bills so that they’ll get pushed off to future sessions,” Schneider said. “I try to introduce them so that they’re as strong as possible, but I’m willing to make changes.”
In a Tuesday hearing of the Assembly Committee on Campaign Reform, four of the eight committee members raised questions about the bill.
After the hearing, state Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greendale, said the bill does not clearly distinguish between contractors or subcontractors, nor does it prohibit state employees who work on projects from making contributions.
“I don’t believe it’s fair,” he said. “The way this bill is designed, it goes after people just because they happen to be business people.”
The state already prohibits corporate contributions to campaigns, Stone said, so the bill is not necessary.
Schneider spokesman Aaron Dumas disputed claims the bill is redundant. Although a corporation cannot contribute to state political campaigns, there are no laws stopping principals or officers of that company from making personal donations.
The bill also does not specify whether political candidates who own businesses that contract with the state may make donations to their own campaigns, said state Rep. Jeff Smith, D-Eau Claire, the committee’s chairman.
“At this stage, the bill isn’t ready for prime time,” he said. “I commend the purity of the idea and trying to eliminate the perception that there are underhanded dealings going on, but I think we’ve got a ways to go in working that out. It doesn’t sound like the votes are there” for the bill.
Schneider said he is willing to make amendments that would allow subcontractors to make contributions and business people to contribute to their own campaigns, but he complained about the speculation on whether there are votes to move the bill out of committee.
“I don’t think committees work right anymore,” he said. “Now it’s all about, ‘Well, do you have the votes? Get the votes,’ instead of working together and offering up amendments to make this work.”
If Schneider amends the bill, the committee will revisit it, Smith said, but he also said there are no promises for a vote to send it to the Assembly floor.
Even if it is amended, the Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin still will question the need for the bill, said Jim Boullion, AGC’s government affairs director.
“So much construction in this state is low-bid,” he said. “It’s an open and transparent process and everyone can see who put the low bid in. No lawmaker can wave their hand and magically give someone a low bid. The concept is wrong.”