Sunday, January 24, 2010

The bright sides of the Supreme Court's dark ruling

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
January 24, 2010

By Bill Kraus

Most of the do-good organizations are railing against the recent Supreme Court decision on election participation and decrying what this will do to an already-broken, outrageously expensive election system. The need for money is what is driving political behavior, and this decision exacerbates that. But it isn’t going to be reversed; at least not soon. So let’s look at what can be salvaged from the wreckage of the regulation solution.

I think there are three very positive things in this decision to exploit.

The first, of course, is disclosure. Twenty years ago, one-time Wisconsin GOP chair George Parker told me what the Supreme Court is telling us: The answer is disclosure. The majority opinion encourages legislation that will reveal the name of everyone who is putting money into advertising in every campaign. A deterrent. No more KKK politics for the currently anonymous funders of issue ads who are hiding behind front organizations to do their political propagandizing. It also suggests upfront and prominent disclaimers on every ad run by corporations and unions and everyone else who is a beneficiary of this ruling. The viewers can know where and who these ads are coming from before they watch them. The theory is, “When the people have all the facts, they will respond appropriately.”

This kind of disclosure also arms candidates who come under attack from these advertisers. They will know who their enemies are, very specifically. Next to a weak opponent a candidate’s next best blessing is a vulnerable enemy. Disclosure will offer up a treasure trove.

Since the Supremes said nothing about public financing, it survives. This means that spending-limit legislation (like that which recently passed for Wisconsin Supreme Court races) can be expanded to include matching funds for those who accept public funding beyond that already authorized. This offsets money being spent beyond the spending limit by millionaire candidates and parallel campaigners to include corporate advertisers that oppose them.

The unintended consequence of the decision may be that it gives a boost to campaign finance reform legislation--without repressing free speech. Suddenly candidates who are in the sights of this kind of spending by outsiders may reconsider their opposition to forward-looking proposals like those contained in the Ellis-Erpenbach bill.

And, finally, this may be a prayer that the presumed winners may not have wanted answered. The political leaders who must raise the money for our current system are not stupid. This is the gang that set up multiple toll booths on the legislative highway to raise money. They can’t do that anymore. The free-speech decision offers up another opportunity to extort contributions from a new set of deep pockets.

The newly liberated and well endowed supplicants can expect to be dragooned into campaign activity in favor of whichever side is most likely to do their bidding. Pre-election extortion instead of the post-election variety? Don’t bet against it.

If the dire predictions from the hand-wringing set prove to be true, we might even get an “enough already” from the beleaguered voters who can be convinced to vote against money instead of for the slick ads the big money can now buy to advance its interests and clutter up what used to be a pastime: watching TV.

It would be a circuitous route to reform, but the direct regularity route which few were taking wasn’t crowded anyway. This decision could put reform on everyone's short agenda.

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