Wisconsin Ethics Commission
Proposed Rule Making Order
The Wisconsin Ethics Commission proposes a rule to amend Wis. Admin. Code ETH 1.20 (9), 1.26 (2), 1.26 (6), 1.60 (1) (b), 1.70 (1), and 1.855 (2) to reflect the changes of 2015 Wisconsin Act 117; and create ETH 1.96 to clarify the attribution requirements of s. 11.1303, Stats.,
related to campaign finance.
A. Statutes interpreted: Chapter 11, Stats.
B. Statutory authority: The Wisconsin Ethics Commission is specifically directed to promulgate rules to administer Chapter 11 pursuant to s. 11.1304 (17), Stats.
11.1304 Duties of the ethics commission. The commission shall:
(17) Promulgate rules to administer this chapter.
The Commission also has specific authority to specific small items or other communications to which s. 11.1303 (2), Stats., does not apply pursuant to s. 11.1303 (2) (f), Stats.
11.1303 Attribution of political contributions, disbursements and communications.
(f) This subsection does not apply to communications containing express advocacy printed on small items on which the information required by this subsection cannot be conveniently printed, including text messages, social media communications, and certain small advertisements on mobile phones. The commission may, by rule, specify small items or other communications to which this subsection shall not apply.
The Commission also has general authority for the promulgation of rules to carry out the requirements of Chapters 11, 13, and 19.
19.48 Duties of the ethics commission. The commission shall:
(1) Promulgate rules necessary to carry out ch. 11, subch. III of ch. 13, and this subchapter.
227.11 Extent to which chapter confers rule-making authority.
(2) Rule-making authority is expressly conferred on an agency as follows:
(a) Each agency may promulgate rules interpreting the provisions of any statute enforced or administered by the agency, if the agency considers it necessary to effectuate the purpose of the statute, but a rule is not valid if the rule exceeds the bounds of correct interpretation.
Explanation of agency authority: The Ethics Commission is required to promulgate rules to administer Chapter 11, Stats. The Wisconsin Ethics Commission is also authorized by s. 11.1303 (2) (f), Stats. to specify small items or other communications to which the attribution requirement shall not apply. The Government Accountability Board previously reviewed the provisions of Wis. Admin. Code ETH 1 as required by 2015 Wisconsin Act 117. In that review, the Board noted several provisions that were inconsistent with the new law, but it did not address other statutory and administrative references within ETH 1 that needed to be updated to harmonize the language with the newly created Chapter 11 or current administrative procedures before it was dissolved. This proposed rule would update provisions that currently contain references to the prior version of Chapter 11 as well as references to outdated forms of the Government Accountability Board. The Ethics Commission previously sought to repeal the inconsistent provisions in CR 18-047, which is currently pending approval of the Governor, and now seeks to amend the remaining provisions affected by 2015 Act 117.
D. Plain language analysis: The rule amends several provisions of ETH 1 to eliminate references to outdated forms and statutory provisions that were repealed under the new campaign finance law created by 2015 Act 117.
The Commission currently only advises committees as to the language required to comply with s. 11.1303 (2), Stats. However, the Commission regularly receives inquiries regarding the necessity of attributions on certain communications or on items where an attribution cannot be conveniently printed. The Commission also regularly receives inquiries as to the required size of an attribution statement. Wisconsin law currently requires that an attribution statement be “readable, legible, and readily accessible.” This rule will propose standards to better define when an attribution is readable, legible, and readily accessible; as well an exception for certain small items or other communications as allowed by s. 11.1303 (2) (f), Stats.
E. Summary of, and comparison with, existing or proposed federal regulations:
The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) provides a great deal of guidance as to the disclaimers required by federal law. Federal law requires the disclaimer to identify the person(s) who paid for a communication and whether the communication was authorized by one or more candidates (e.g., “Paid for by the Sheridan for Congress Committee.”) Under federal law, any public communication made by a political committee – including communications that do not expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a clearly identified federal candidate or solicit a contribution – must display a disclaimer. The FEC also requires that disclaimers appear on political committee’s websites, and in certain email communications. All public communications that expressly advocate the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate, electioneering communications, and all public communications that solicit any contribution require a disclaimer.
Disclaimers are not required when it cannot conveniently be printed (e.g., pens, buttons, similar small items), the display is not practical (e.g., apparel, water towers, skywriting), or when the item is of minimal value and does not contain a political message and is used for administrative purposes (e.g., a check). A disclaimer need not be on the front page of multi-page communications, as long as it is on one of the pages.
Similar to Wisconsin law, a disclaimer is also required when a communication is authorized by a committee even if the committee does not pay for it (e.g., “Paid for by the XYZ State Party Committee and authorized by Sheridan for Congress Committee”) or when another organization makes an express advocacy communication without the authorization of the candidate (e.g., “Paid for by the QRS Committee (www.QRScommittee.org) and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.)
Federal disclaimers are required to be “clear and conspicuous” regardless of the medium in which the communication is transmitted. A disclaimer is not clear and conspicuous if it is difficult to read or hear, or if its placement is easily overlooked. A printed disclaimer must be contained within a printed box set apart from the contents of the communication.