Last night, the Madison common council rejected, on an 11-9 vote, a proposal by Mayor Paul Soglin to require city contractors to disclose some political donations. The proposal would have required city contractors receiving contracts worth over $25,000 to disclose all contributions – not only by the contractor, but by any person having at least a 10% ownership interest in the contractor – to all 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations and 527 political action committees.
Disclosure requirements are subject to exacting scrutiny under the First Amendment, and can only be upheld if they are substantially related to a sufficiently important government interest. Because the proposal would not – by its own terms – be used for any purpose relating to contracting by the city, and was not related in any way to elections or campaigns, it would serve no legitimate government purpose. The proposal’s supporters even stated publicly that they hoped disclosure would stifle contributions to groups with which they disagree, a wholly inappropriate government purpose.
WILL is glad that Madison rejected the proposal, but remains vigilant in support of our constitutional rights. The vote was close, and according to the Wisconsin State Journal’s coverage, “Some council members said . . . that as written it wouldn’t go far enough.”