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Fundraising ban is real reform
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Like every state across the country, Wisconsin is grappling with the most serious economic crisis in generations. Wisconsin faces its highest unemployment level in 27 years, and new estimates last week revealed that because of the national economic downturn, the state's budget deficit has grown to almost $7 billion.

The economic crisis is very real and very serious, and solving it will require tough choices, sacrifice on the part of all Wisconsinites, and leadership from elected representatives.

During the 2007 budget process, fundraising was, at best, a distraction. A final bill was not signed until October - four months overdue. State officeholders raised more than $2 million during the first six months of the budget in 2007. Meanwhile, local municipalities couldn't write their budgets, and college kids were sitting at home wondering if their state-funded financial aid would ever come through.

That was wrong, plain and simple.

Fundraising is a distraction that we just can't afford this budget season, so in one of our first actions since returning to power, Assembly Democrats passed an important budget reform that will keep legislators focused on one thing, and one thing only - fixing the budget deficit and getting the people of Wisconsin back to work.

This key reform is an Assembly rule change that bans members from soliciting or knowingly accepting campaign funds during the budget process. Not only is this the most significant campaign finance reform in a decade, it also is a critical step in reforming the way we craft our budgets.

Because the rule governs the behavior of every member of the Assembly, a violation of the fundraising ban can trigger penalties that include loss of staff, committee assignments and leadership positions, and even public censure. These are severe consequences, and members take these rules very seriously.

We know it works because members of the Assembly say so themselves. In the 2007 budget process, for example, then-Speaker Mike Huebsch, R-Onalaska, raised nearly $50,000 in the first 6 months of 2007. Yet in an exchange on the floor of the Wisconsin State Assembly with Rep. Mark Pocan last month, Rep. Huebsch confirmed that he had raised zero money in 2009 precisely because of the Assembly fundraising ban.

Some have wondered why we banned fundraising through a rule change rather than a law. The answer is simple - the Democratic Assembly fundraising ban is the quickest and most effective way to stop the hunt for campaign cash during this budget cycle. To be sure, there will be time for further reforms in the future, but we face a budget crisis today.

The last governor to sign a budget on time - by July 1st, the first day of the fiscal year - was Governor Patrick Lucey in the 1970s. These unprecedented and urgently challenging times demand that legislators focus solely on fixing this budget crisis and getting Wisconsin's economy moving again. Assembly Democrats moved swiftly to ban fundraising during the budget, and this critical reform is having enormous success.