State News

Proposed bill looks to block campaign stops if campaigns have debts to other Wisconsin cities

After presidential campaigns in 2016 failed to pay bills sent to them by Wisconsin municipalities, two state legislators proposed legislation forcing campaigns pay their bills beforehand or they would be denied permits. 

After presidential campaigns in 2016 failed to pay bills sent to them by Wisconsin municipalities, two state legislators proposed legislation forcing campaigns pay their bills beforehand or they would be denied permits. 

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

President Donald Trump visited Milwaukee Tuesday, Jan. 14 for a campaign rally in the lead up for his 2020 re-election campaign. But if recent legislation proposed by two Wisconsin state legislators passes, that campaign stop would not have been possible. 

The bill, proposed last Monday by Sen. Jeff Smith of Eau Claire and Rep. Amanda Stuck of Appleton, would prohibit presidential campaigns with unpaid bills to obtain permits for campaign events. Additionally, it would allow municipalities to charge campaigns before their visits.

“The cities are already on tight budgets and cannot really plan ahead in their budgets for [campaign stops] to take place,” Sen. Smith, D-Eau Claire, said. “The campaigns need to act responsibly and make sure they pay the cities for the services they provide.”

Trump’s campaign still owes $56,778 to the cities of Eau Claire and Green Bay for unpaid costs for police and other public safety costs from visits in 2016 — an issue not unique to Wisconsin. The Trump campaign owes over $800,000 to municipalities across the US, according to the Center for Public Integrity. 

Hilary Clinton’s campaign also owes Eau Claire and Green Bay a total of $18,705. 

Rep. Amanda Stuck, D-Appleton, said that she got involved in proposing this legislation after a local alderperson from the City of Appleton reached out to her. When they were preparing the city’s budget, she was surprised at the potential costs of campaign stops and reached out to Stuck to make sure taxpayers don’t get stuck with the bills in 2020.

“We’re not talking about just 100 dollars here or there, we’re talking thousands of dollars,”  Stuck said. “There’s a lot to it and it does add up really quickly.”

Wisconsin is poised to be a huge battleground state for the 2020 presidential election and with a crowded Democratic primary field, Smith said he’s hoping this bill can get ahead of potential  multiple campaign stops across the state. And help protect smaller municipalities. 

Smith cited one example from the 2016 primary in April where all four candidates — Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton — visited Eau Claire on the same day, stretching the city’s resources to the point they had to call in police from other jurisdictions to help them out. 

In the end, both the Cruz and Sanders campaigns paid the bills sent by the city, while the Trump and Clinton campaigns did not.

Rep. Stuck agrees that this legislation is especially important for small communities. Milwaukee — which will host the Democratic National Convention this July — has more resources for police and other services than a smaller town, like Eau Claire. 

But Stuck believes this legislation still gives protection for any cities’ budget. 

“Any municipality, large or small, doesn’t have a lot of extra money to cover the costs [of campaign visits], but certainly smaller communities have even less than bigger communities to do so,” Rep. Stuck said. “It’s really important that they have these tools and these options.”

Sen. Smith and Rep. Stuck hope their bill receives bipartisan support in the legislature. Both emphasized how campaigns from both parties have left Wisconsin cities to cover their bills, and Stuck said she hopes they can get it passed before the spring session ends. 

“We’ll all pay the bill whether we’re Republicans or Democrats. Hopefully we’ll come together and pass this bill so we’re all protected,” Stuck stated. 

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