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Overview

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that organizations can make unlimited political expenditures from their treasuries directly and through other organizations (often referred to as Super PACs), as long as the spending is done independently of any candidate. The court argued that making expenditures independently of candidates, without coordinating their activities with the campaigns, will not corrupt the political process. Since the decision, outside money in the form of independent expenditures has played a bigger role in funding local political campaigns in cities around the country, and, in some instances, is dominating campaign expenditures. In many cities, the outside spending activities take place without complete, immediate, or easily accessible disclosure about who is funding them, undermining the ability of voters to understand who is behind political messages. When donors contributing to Super PACs and other outside groups are identified, their personal residences are often located outside the city in which the political races are taking place. For example, in the spring of 2022, a group called Wisconsinites for Liberty Fund sent out mailers in the Green Bay area, targeting eight candidates in support of or opposition to their campaigns, most of which were running for Green Bay City Council. The organization seems to be funded out of Alpharetta, Georgia, and no candidates claimed to have any knowledge of, or connection to, Wisconsinites For Liberty Fund.

Some people are concerned that a system dominated by big money, disconnected from local residents, produces an unrepresentative pool of wealthy, well-heeled people running for office. Additionally, there are concerns that big money in local elections nationalizes local elections, marginalizes minority voters, and leads to local policies that fail to reflect the wishes and needs of everyday citizens. To fight these issues, several cities have adopted campaign finance reforms. For example, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Washington D.C. have policies in place that affect public funding of campaigns, contribution limits, or disclosure laws. As a group, identify a city in Wisconsin or around the country where outside money has influenced political campaigns. Investigate the circumstances surrounding the outside influence, its impact on election outcomes, and propose a solution that encompasses at least two types of reforms. In order to help ensure that your solution can be implemented in the city, analyze existing solutions in other U.S. cities and their effectiveness. Connect with relevant stakeholders in cities that have implemented local campaign finance reforms and integrate their experiences into your project.

 

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  • JS 221-227
  • JS300-1583

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Andrew Prellwitz

Prellwitz, Andrew

Library Director and User Services Librarian Departments: Instruction, Archives, Electronic Resources

[email protected]