Posts Tagged ‘Campaign Finance’

The argument that needs to be made

January 25, 2010

New York Times editorial board on the Supreme Court’s campaign finance ruling:

“The majority is deeply wrong on the law. Most wrongheaded of all is its insistence that corporations are just like people and entitled to the same First Amendment rights. It is an odd claim since companies are creations of the state that exist to make money. They are given special privileges, including different tax rates, to do just that. It was a fundamental misreading of the Constitution to say that these artificial legal constructs have the same right to spend money on politics as ordinary Americans have to speak out in support of a candidate. (more…)


January 21, 2010

New York Times:

Sweeping aside a century-old understanding and overruling two important precedents, a bitterly divided Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the government may not ban political spending by corporations in candidate elections.

Before we start lamenting the obvious, what are the arguments that advocates of campaign finance regulation will make to combat the right-wing logic that corporations should be treated the same as citizens. Its an idea that is very popular in America. In no other western country is the disproportionate economic power of a few so easily tolerated as in the United States.

Sen. Russ Feingold, one of the chief authors of current campaign finance regulations, shared a predictable response with the Times:

“Ignoring important principles of judicial restraint and respect for precedent, the Court has given corporate money a breathtaking new role in federal campaigns,” said Mr. Feingold, a Democrat.

The consequences of the ruling –– that corporations and other monied interests will pervert the political process more than they already do –– are important. But there needs to be a constitutional argument that accompanies the appeals to our sense of fairness. Feingold and others need to explain why corporations to not deserve the same rights that the constitution affords individuals.

Republicans are not the only ones who welcome this decision. They may be the only ones who celebrate it publicly, but I know of at least one top member of the state Democratic Party who opposes campaign finance regulation because he believes it hurts Democrats’ ability to raise money from unions.

How much does a regent have to pay Doyle?

August 6, 2009

I’ve been hearing rumors from people involved in university policy that the board of regents is stacked with major Democratic contributors, especially contributors to Gov. Jim Doyle’s campaigns. I did some research on my own to assess the charge, and I come back with mixed results, which leave me cynical enough to believe the accusations, but not convinced enough to declare Doyle “guilty” beyond a reasonable doubt.

Here are the regents Doyle selected, including the amount they contributed to his campaigns since 2003:

Jeffrey Bartell – $17, 474

Mark Bradley – $20,219

Eileen Keesler–Connolly – $500

Judith Crain – $150

Danae Davis – $2450

Stan Davis – $1,350

John Drew – $0

Tony Evers – $0

Michael J. Falbo – $14,000

Thomas Loftus – $1,100

Charles Pruitt – $2,150

Brent Smith – $7,187

Michael J. Spector – $22,050

David Walsh – $24,250

Like I said, not enough to convict the man. A handful of very big contributors, including three who surpassed the 20 grand mark, a pretty impressive feat. Essentially that means they gave the maximum allowed ($10,000) for his first two campaigns and are probably planning on maxing out their contributions for his next campaign if he runs again. Of the two who gave no money, one is John Drew, a representative for the United Autoworkers, and the other is Tony Evers, the state superintendent, who is not selected by the governor. There are a handful of prominent lobbyists, including David Walsh, who represents communications interests, as well as many other members who have seemingly no experience in education whatsoever. Granted, it’s not just education buffs you need on the board of regents – you also need people with legal, financial and other cultural expertise.

What is extremely disappointing about the board of regents is how few of them come from outside Madison or Milwaukee. Many schools in the UWS system lack representation completely. Six come from the Madison area, seven come from the Milwaukee area, two come from Green Bay and one comes from La Crosse. Since the inception of the Board of Regents over 30 years ago, there has not once been a regent nominated from the Eau Claire area. Luckily one of the student reps on the board this year comes from Eau Claire.

But here’s the sad truth: under the current system, there should probably be even more regents from Madison.

This is relevant in the broader context of higher education in this state. The Board of Regents is an antiquated structure, which does not properly address the needs of the different UW campuses. UW-Madison, by far the largest campus in the system, needs separate governance. This has been proposed before by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, and it needs to be evaluated more seriously. Not only does Madison account for more than a quarter of all students in the system, it also supplies more than 90 percent of all doctoral degrees, and takes in 93 percent of all research funds in the system. UW-Madison is a state school and should remain one, but it is also a nationally renowned research university that can compete with the top public and private universities in the country. It needs to be independent to pursue this competition.

Not only would independence help Madison, but it would benefit all the other UWS campuses, who would then have the opportunity to have a board composed purely of regents with their needs in mind. Eau Claire would finally get some representation!

That’s why I don’t believe the legislation authored by Rep. Jeff Smith (D-Eau Claire), which seeks to nominate the regents based on seven geographical districts (all must be represented by at least one regent) goes far enough in addressing the inadequacies of the system. If anything, I believe this legislation would be a very bad deal for Madison.

Assembly Dems squirm out of fundraising mess

July 22, 2009

“Mess” would probably be too strong a word for several hundred dollars of campaign contributions, but taken in the greater context of the Democrats’ struggles with campaign finance promises, it was very important for Speaker Mike Sheridan to clear the air in these last two cases.

Several days ago I linked to an article published by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which alleged two Democratic representatives and two Republican representatives had violated the February ban on accepting contributions during the budget process.

Democrats Fred Clark of Baraboo and Ted Zigmunt of Francis Creek accepted $600 and $2,050 in contributions, respectively, on February 17. Republican Rich Zipperer of Pewaukee accepted $450 in contributions February 17 and Republican Keith Ripp of Lodi accepted a $57.80 in-kind contribution June 25.

However, apparently they weren’t the only ones. Because today Sheridan sent letters to eight representatives, including the four mentioned above as well as Rep. Sandy Pasch (D-Whitefish Bay), Rep. Jerry Patrowski (R-Marathon), Rep. Louis Molepske (D-Stevens Point), and Rep. Phil Montgomery (R-Green Bay). The speaker essentially pardoned all of them. Some of them had accepted contributions the day before the budget was presented by the governor and had simply recorded the donation the next day. Sheridan blamed the other offenses on vaguer excuses, such as misunderstandings etc. He ended each letter by instructing each legislator to return the money and there would be no further action taken against them. Aw shucks.

OK, not visible ethics violations, but certainly incompetence. So convenient that there are exactly as many Republican offenders as Democratic ones. It meshes perfectly with the case I made in the last post on the matter – in politics your evil can only be defined in comparison to your opponent. This particularly issue is mainly relevant to Sheridan and the Democratic leadership – not the individual lawmakers involved. If the offenders had been all Democrats, the GOP leadership would have had a great talking point about the Democratic hypocrisy, as well as Sheridan’s inability to control his own ranks. After all, it was the Democrats who championed the fundraising ban – the ball was in their court.

A Falking fortune

July 21, 2009

Unfortunately I missed the Dane County Executive race this spring. I could almost swear the French press didn’t run one piece on the matter.

Apparently Kathleen Falk’s competition was weak (or a liar, as Gerald Cox wrote) because even the Badger Herald editorial board took a break from dissing her with an endorsement (right?). Cox decided to write in his father.

Nevertheless, Falk, in true Nixon fashion, still upped the ante on the campaign trail, spending a record amount convincing people to care.

The candidates for Dane County executive this spring spent more than half a million dollars on the campaign, making it the most expensive race in county history.

Incumbent Kathleen Falk, who won with 60 percent of the vote, raised nearly $310,000 and spent about $352,000. Challenger Nancy Mistele raised $234,000 and spent about $218,000, according to campaign finance reports filed Monday.

Assembly Democrats are bad

July 18, 2009

Here’s a philosophical prompt for you, dear reader. What is the essence of politics? What is the most fundamental law that guides political behavior? Is it the instinct of the politician to abide by his campaign promises, in order to avoid alienating his base?  Or is a good politician merely one who masters the art of breaking promises without voters noticing?

Obviously, it depends on the promise. If the promise has anything to do with campaign fundraising, it is virtually impossible that a politician’s actions will coincide with his moralistic grandstanding. It has been done a few times. Russ Feingold is about as close as you’re going to get.

So it was really no surprise when the Assembly Democrats reneged on their February pledge to not raise money while the budget was being written. They scheduled two fundraisers during the time, and only after intense media criticism did they cancel the second of the two. By the way, only because of unforgivable media incompetence did the first fundraiser go practically undetected. It simply goes to show that politicians will do anything if a lazy press allows them to.

Good news though. Re-discovering their commitment to ethics, the Assembly Democrats re-scheduled the “completely legitimate” fundraiser to after the budget had been voted on.

However, two of their members nevertheless broke the rules on their own.

Democrats Fred Clark of Baraboo and Ted Zigmunt of Francis Creek accepted $600 and $2,050 in contributions, respectively, on February 17.

Just to make clear: these guys broke the rules as clearly as possible. When the Assembly Dems tried to justify their fundraiser last month, they argued that the ban only involved individual candidates and their committees, and of course, has nothing to do with party committees. So now they have two bonified bad apples. Is Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan going to abide by his promise to not support candidates who violate the ban? Probably not, because it turns out the Republicans had troubles of their own with the ban:

Republican Rich Zipperer of Pewaukee accepted $450 in contributions February 17 and Republican Keith Ripp of Lodi accepted a $57.80 in-kind contribution June 25.

Hence, I will end the post on this prediction: In politics, corruption can only be measured in relation to the opposition. Hence, when both sides misbehave, nobody pays. Except for the constituents, who are asked yet again to believe in a “squeaky clean” Wisconsin.

Where’s the pressure on Legislature Dems?

June 23, 2009

A few weeks ago there was a state media frenzy about a promise broken by the Wisconsin Assembly Democrats. The Dems, including Speaker Mike Sheridan, had pledged not to accept campaign contributions while the budget was being written. We can assume that, like most politicians and lovers, they then spent the majority of their free time trying to figure out how to get out of the awful commitment.

Apparently all they had to do was look to the insurance industry for the answer: shared risk. If they all take them, then they’re all innocent. Hence, the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee scheduled a $1000 a plate fundraiser on June 15 at the Wild Rock Golf Club. Under fire for hypocrisy, the Dems finally postponed the gig, even though they hosted a similar one on June 3 which went practically undetected in the media.

The story gets even worse. The Assembly Democrats have ironically shown support for a full ban on campaign fundraising during the budget process, which of course would make illegal the events mentioned above. But their colleagues in the Senate don’t agree, and have threatened to block the proposal. The State Journal editorializes:

Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker has climbed out on a limb to protect a campaign fundraising tactic that betrays public trust in government.

This unrelenting support for budget fundraising seems to indicate just how important the practice is for legislators. Because of cynical trade of favors for donations? Perhaps partly. But also because the legislature is dead throughout most of the year, and the budget is by far the most important aspect of their work in any given two year period. The budget generally encompasses a variety of issues – everything from illegal immigration to gay rights. Hence, Decker likely sees it as crucial in stirring up the base and getting cash for the campaigns.

That matters to him, but it shouldn’t matter to us. The press needs to keep the pressure on Democrats to pass a ban and make Wisconsin an example for the rest of the country. The Cap Times, the Journal-Sentinel – your voices need to be heard on the matter.

Free speech and the Supreme Court

June 17, 2009

It looks like there may be a serious push for a serious judiciary in the Badger State. After years of watching our system of checks and balances be corrupted by corporate whores and people who don’t believe in the constitution (Uncle Sam’s version or our own), the Democratic legislature looks poised to change the rules for the better.

The Assembly Committee on Elections and Campaign Reform approved a pair of sweeping campaign finance reform bills during an executive session this morning.

The committee approved AB 63, which would increase reporting requirements for groups running so-called “issue ads,” by a 6-1 vote, and forwarded AB 65, which would create public funding for Supreme Court elections, by a 4-3 party line vote.

The campaign finance provision is important. What would be even better would be the abolition of Supreme Court races, however, getting the WMC out of the picture would be a good start nonetheless. In case you don’t remember, Michael Gableman, the newest addition to the court, won election back in 2008 by celebrating his opposition to the right of a defense for the accused, paid for, of course, by WMC.

The third party ads are frankly a very hazy affair. The line between free speech infringement and reasonable campaign finance regulation is somewhat arbitrary. Yes, the vast majority of issue ads aired are put out by groups that are essentially fronts for political parties or candidates. However, once we begin restricting the use of the media by advertisers, why can we not also restrict use of the media by the journalists themselves? If a paper endorses a candidate, is that “campaigning” that’s subject to restriction? Most would say no, because the paper was probably not set up for a specific political purpose – but some are. Take the Washington Times, for instance. Set up by the leader of a religious cult who also happened to be virulently anti-communist, the Times is now a hub for D.C. right wing propaganda.

Most liberals would respond to this dilemma by saying that there are reasonable restrictions on the media, such as the Fairness Doctrine, which used to mandate news providers to give “both sides of the story” of a political issue. Frankly, that policy is absurd. There are never two sides of an issue, there are thousands, and in the world of new media, it is harder than ever to determine what is a news source and what isn’t. I don’t consider Fox News a source of the news, hence, I do not believe it should be required to give a “fair and balanced” view of every topic it covers, from Obama being a closet Muslim to Natalie Holloway’s disappearance.

Ironically, the solution to both issues I believe to be one and the same: more public financing. Just as campaigns should be publicly financed, so should an increasing number of media outlets. The corporate ones should not be abolished, but they should have to compete with good, responsible news services provided by the state to the people. Most other Western countries have such a system and we should too. The fall of the old media during the recession demonstrates just how corporate it has become – and how dependent it is on catering to its benefactors. This can’t be the only way journalism is run – blogs are important, but so is government participation.