A Wisconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
November 8, 2009
By Bill Kraus
The Impartial Justice legislation that was passed in the closing hours of the recent fall legislation session is the first attempt in 30+ years to clean up and contain campaign spending.
It has the virtue of being attacked from both sides. Those who like the status quo think it goes too far. The all-or-nothing reformers don’t think it goes far enough.
The latter group contend that the spending limits and public funding award are not big enough to run a statewide campaign. It is inarguable that they aren’t big enough for the kind of full-blown, TV-based campaign to which we have recently been subjected. But if both candidates conform to the limits, it is enough to run the more traditional word-of-mouth, face-to-face judicial contest and spare us all a repeat of the recent atrocities.
The more serious criticism of the bill is that it doesn't deal with the issue ads that have recently become prominent in Supreme Court elections.
The authors of the bill took a pass on putting an issue ad disincentive into it to accompany the millionaire and parallel campaign disincentives that were included is the U.S. Supreme Court. The court is pondering a decision which could make issue ad inhibition unconstitutional.
If they rule the way they seem to be leaning, the whole Impartial Justice bill would be voided. This is not a risk the reformers are willing to take after decades of no action.
They point out that if the Supreme Court surprises us there is a full disclosure bill in the wings which could be enacted quickly to expose and discourage the people who are paying for issue ads.
The other thing that makes this shortcoming less threatening is that WMC, one of the issue-ad wielders in recent years has already backed away from participation in supreme court races. And WEAC has said they would if WMC would. That does leave the semi-anonymous organizations with secret funders and apple pie and motherhood names free to perpetrate their mischief.
Any campaigner worth his or her salt would love to be attacked by these kinds of organizations. It gives the “victimized” candidate the opportunity to ask, “Who are these people and why are they saying these nasty things about me?” and to suggest that something unseemly is being bought here.
The side effect of over-the-top issue ads is the opportunity they present to make a low-profile beauty contest into an issue campaign with the campaign itself and its questionable interlopers being the issue.
And, finally, the Impartial Justice proposal, if it works as hoped, can be a good example for the partisans who are addicted to the egregious campaign system which they hate and believe they can't live without.
If public funding and spending limits work here, they can work anywhere.
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