Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Common Cause
in Wisconsin
Public Forum at UW-Eau Claire

April 28, 2009

Images from our April 20th forum:

Coming soon... the date and location of our next event!


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Government as if government mattered

A Wisconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
April 26, 2009

By Bill Kraus
It goes without saying that most of the participants in the recent tea party demonstrations can be found on the rolls of the Republican Party. The Republicans attract anarchists. The breeding ground of this “lower taxes; less government” faction in Wisconsin used to be the North Shore Republican Club of Milwaukee County and may still be. Although there are signs of infestations in some nearby counties.

The anarchists and the communists believe that in their disparate versions of the perfect worlds the government can be made to go away.

The communists seem to have spawned mostly autocracies, many of them tyrannical. This was not what Marx promised.

The anarchists’ high point in this country was the Ronald Reagan presidency. Reagan’s “the government is the problem not the solution” rhetoric was the kind of talk the anarchists had been hoping to hear.

The walk, however, didn’t match the rhetoric. The government grew during his presidency. Not as fast as the Democrats would have liked perhaps, but fast enough to disappoint his most ardent admirers and pretty much put the underlying myth that he was God’s gift to the cause to bed for good one would think. One would be wrong. The myth persists and even grows as memories fade.

The Reaganites to the contrary notwithstanding all of the revered Republican leaders have been government activists not dismantlers. Tommy Thompson, our own most recent activist Republican, put it succinctly in a recent interview when he asked, “If you don’t want to do something, why would you run for public office.”

Despite the distractions of the Civil War, Lincoln built the transcontinental railroad and established the land grant colleges.

Teddy Roosevelt is remembered more for national parks and public lands than anything else.

Dwight Eisenhower built the I-system.

And in Wisconsin Warren Knowles gets as much credit as Gaylord Nelson for saving the environment and acquiring land for public purposes. Lee Dreyfus counted the building of the veterinarian school as his high point, which he insisted on over the dead bodies of most of his advisers and the UW administration. He said, “It’s about research.” And it was when Jamie Thompson made his stem cell discoveries there.

And Tommy Thompson was almost manic in his activism. He built and built and built.

The government is here to stay, and the Republicans will get to run it as, if, when they demonstrate they can and will run it better than the other guys. The practitioners of electoral segmentation will say that the Republicans must attend to the anarchists or they will go away. The likelihood of that is zero. Not only will they not go away, they are harder to get rid of than teenage acne.

Their virtue is that they throw tea party protests instead of blowing people up like their more violent counterparts in other places.

The tea parties were a sideshow. The people want a government that works.

Follow Bill Kraus on:
twitter / wmkraus


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Common Cause in Wisconsin
Public Forum - Eau Claire

Significant Gathering in Eau Claire is Encouraged, Optimistic About Chances for Enactment of Campaign Finance Reform This Year

Approximately 100 citizens from all over the Chippewa Valley gathered at the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire Monday evening for Common Cause in Wisconsin (CC/WI) organized public forum, "Whatever Happened to Good Governmet in Wisconsin? How Can We Fix and Why is it so Important During a Recession?"

Panelists included State Reperesentatives Kristen Dexter and Jeff Smith, both of Eau Claire, State Senator Pat Kreitlow of Chippewa Falls, Tom Giffey, the editorial page editor of the Eau Claire Leader Telegram, and yours truly. The forum was ably moderated by the Chair of the UWEC Political Science Department, Professor Rodd Freitag. The large audience consisted of Common Cause members, members of the American Association of University Women and the League of Women Voters of the Eau Claire area, members of the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups, students and faculty from UW-Eau Claire, and other area residents interested in seeing Wisconsin regain clean, honest and accountable state government.

Rep. Dexter is the primary Assembly sponsor of legislation that would require the disclosure of the donors and regulation of the money behind widely-disseminated campaign communications masquerading as issue advocacy. These "phony issue ads" have undermined and demoralized the election process in Wisconsin since the mid 1990's and CC/WI has been seeking to require their disclosure and regulation since 1997 - the first reform organization in Wisconsin to do so.

Sen. Kreitlow is the primary State Senate sponsor of legislation to provide full public financing to qualifying candidates for the State Supreme Court who agree to abide by revised spending limits. The "Impartial Justice" legislation, like the phony issue ad legislation, has the stated support of the leadership of both the Wisconsin Assembly and the State Senate, as well as that of Governor Jim Doyle.

At the forum last night, Rep. Smith, the Chair of the Assembly Committee on Campaigns & Elections and a strong supporter of both of these and other campaign finance reform legislation, announced that a public hearing on the two reform measures will be held on or about May 27th, most likely in Eau Claire.

For more on these very encouraging developments and on Monday night's forum, go here: Forum tackles election funding, and for Tim Giffey's column on campaign finance reform written right before the forum, go here: Column: Has time for reform finally arrived?

- Jay Heck


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Behind the curtain

A Wisconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
April 19, 2009

By Bill Kraus

Dick Cheney would be most people’s nominee for the Bush Administration’s eminence grise.

Not so fast.

John Roach orchestrated a wonderful interview recently with Tommy Thompson for broadcast on the Big Ten Network. I know. I know. The viewers are going to think they clicked on the wrong channel when they get a non-jock program, but put that aside.

The John and Tommy show was first-class theater and journalism. John crafted excellent questions and Tommy delivered candid and articulate responses.

Two subjects in particular offered an interesting insight into the workings of the Bush White House.

Tommy, of course, was the entire left wing of the Bush administration once Christine Whitman got the bum’s rush early on.

He was a consistent advocate of more extensive federal involvement in anything having to do with stem cell research. He didn’t go into the entire history of this advocacy, which must have been extensive.

The one instance he talks about in the show was at a lunch in the White House with the president and Karl Rove. He didn’t claim any progress beyond keeping a bad situation from getting worse.

It is hardly surprising that Karl Rove was at the table when stem cells were on the menu or that there was no winner. Rove would be expected to be in any discussion of a subject where the interests of his beloved base were at risk.

The other Tommy tale that was more surprising was about Tommy’s proposal to put the computerization of medical records on a fast track.

Tommy told the president th at if he was given a high priority he could put the wheels under an initiative to program everyone’s health records in 18 months.

Another lunch in the White House. Same cast of characters. Rove liked this idea but wanted it to be positioned like a moonshot, something that would be done in ten year's time.

Tommy pointed out that putting the merits aside, a ten-year program would pass up all the political benefits.

The president called Tommy later that same afternoon and said, “You lost.”

The question is not why Karl Rove passed on this interesting idea. The question is why he was even in the room.

Do you get the impression that Bush was afraid of Rove and Rove was afraid of his precious voter base?

So do I.

Follow Bill Kraus on:
twitter / wmkraus


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Citizen Forum on State Political and Campaign Finance Reform at UW – Eau Claire this Monday Evening – April 20TH

Press Release
April 15, 2009


Jay Heck – 608/256-2686

Pro-Reform Area Legislators – State Senator Pat Kreitlow and State Representatives
Kristen Dexter and Jeff Smith are Among the Panelists

In the latest in a series of public forums that have been held around the state aimed at increasing public awareness and educating citizens about the need for campaign finance and other political reforms in Wisconsin, Common Cause in Wisconsin (CC/WI) is sponsoring a panel and citizen discussion entitled: "What Ever Happened to Good Government in Wisconsin? How We Can Fix It And Why It Matters During A Recession.” This event, in which the audience can actively participate, will be held on Monday, April 20th from 6:30 to 8:00 PM in Room 102 of Hibbard Humanities Hall – Garfield and Park Avenues in Eau Claire.

Panelists include State Senator Pat Kreitlow of Chippewa Falls and State Representatives Kristen Dexter and Jeff Smith – both of Eau Claire. Also on the panel is Tom Giffey, the Editorial Page Editor of the Eau Claire Leader Telegram and Jay Heck, the Executive Director of CC/WI, the state’s largest non-partisan political reform advocacy organization with more than 3,000 members statewide. The Chair of the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire Political Science department, Professor Rodd Freitag, will moderate the event.

“During the last seven years, Wisconsin has had to endure its most serious political scandal in state history – the Legislative Caucus Scandal – replete with criminal indictments for illegal campaign fund raising and jail sentences. Then there were the most expensive, negative and demoralizing elections for State Supreme Court (in 2007 and 2008) in our history and a nearly $35 million election for Governor in 2006 with another as expensive and nasty (or even more so) on the horizon for next year. All of this demonstrates the growing, corrupting influence of political money in Wisconsin today,” said Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin.

“This forum seeks to better inform the citizens of the greater Eau Claire area about the critical link between campaign finance reform and the everyday concerns and issues that directly affect their lives. We want to explain why – during this economic recession when resources and funding for state programs are in very short supply and cuts are being made – the need for campaign finance reform is even more urgent than ever. And we want to hear what the citizens of this area have to say about all of this," Heck said.

Joining Common Cause in Wisconsin in co-sponsoring the event is the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Fund, the American Association of University Women – Eau Claire Branch, the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire Political Science Department and the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups.

The panel will take questions from the audience following their presentations and citizens will have an opportunity to voice their opinions about reform and corruption in state government as well.

This event is free and open to the public and refreshments will be served.

The Eau Claire event is the seventh in a series of forums organized by Common Cause in Wisconsin throughout the state to help educate Wisconsinites about the need for political reform. Previous reforms forums have been held in Green Bay, Milwaukee, La Crosse, Oshkosh, Madison and Sturgeon Bay. Support for these forums is provided by the Joyce Foundation. For more information, call 608/256-2686, e-mail ccwisjwh@itis.com or visit our website at www.commoncausewisconsin.org.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Lessons learned and not learned

A Wisconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
April 12, 2009

By Bill Kraus

It was, for the most part, a day for the favorites and for favorite strategies, most but not all of which worked.

The Obama Example, which consists of spending a lot and going retail by putting large numbers of people on the streets, was followed and validated by those candidates who had the money and the organizations. Not a big news item. My own prejudice would be to credit the retail over the money particularly in low-turnout elections, but this doesn’t fit the conventional wisdom or make the hired guns rich and will be dismissed out of hand.

Until and unless there’s a campaign where money goes head-to-head with organization, which is a researcher’s dream and a campaign improbability, this disagreement will not be resolved.

The Feingold Example, on the other hand, had no takers that I saw. What Russ did was to tell the third parties to go away, with a “thanks but no thanks” to those who offered to run parallel campaigns designed to help him. Tony Evers's campaign, if any, was completely overshadowed by Mary Bell’s ads for WEAC. The other campaigns got less significant help, which makes their failure to set the good example of suggesting that political campaigns are supposed to be the property of the candidates even more disappointing.

Civility had a pretty good day. Attack ads did not. Attack ads were used mostly against popular incumbents and flirted with being inane and irrelevant, and any failure of this technique, which diminishes the trade and its practitioners, is worth applauding. The trade itself, too, had a pretty good day. The naysayers and attackers who follow the course set by the shouters who draw listeners to talk radio found that the voters were voting for people who spoke more softly and offered to deliver a government that worked. Could it be that campaigns are going to be more about what candidates hope to do than where their opponent messed up?

The organizations that insist on anonymity contributed more legwork than media buys to the campaigns of those they favored or opposed. A young man who came to my door asked me to answer some questions for a survey he was conducting. When I saw the length of the list of questions, I demurred, and asked what organization he represented and whether he wanted to leave me any literature. He said his organization was Advancing Wisconsin, a worthy idea, and he left me literature for three candidates who presumably would do that. He wouldn’t have passed the Feingold test.

The robocall--an emerging candidate for most annoying campaign technique--had a big day. My phone rang off the hook particularly as election day neared--with calls from all the candidates for major offices and from candidates for lesser local offices as well. Or were those recordings? And why not spend this money on radio spots or newspaper ads or calls from friends or something less patently phony and, as I said, annoying.

In sum, the 2009 elections offered the optimists among us some hope without entirely dismissing the pessimists’ fears. The pessimists will point out that the Democratic Party didn’t get, didn’t believe, or chose to ignore the poor record of attack ads when they decided to take a preemptive shot at Scott Walker’s presumed 2010 candidacy for governor a few days after the election.

Even the optimists have to continue to be dismayed by the candidates’ unwillingness to and uninterest in controlling their own campaign destinies by telling the outsiders to step aside, take a walk, go away. The parallel campaigns were mostly benign this spring. That is not their natural preference. They prefer the big stick.

Until and unless candidates disdain parallel campaigns, campaign hijacking, which can beset candidates of every persuasion, lingers and looms.

Follow Bill Kraus on:
twitter / wmkraus


Common Cause in Wisconsin - In the News

April 2009

  • Area legislators discuss improving politics
    Panel debates campaign finance reform, issue ads' negative effects

    April 23, 2009 - Breann Schossow, The Spectator

    Wisconsin once held a place in the nation as the role model of clean state government and reforms, boasting politicians such as Gov. Robert La Follette and promoting open records and meetings laws.

    That is no longer the case, said Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin. But that hasn't hindered his hope.

    "In the 13 years since I've been director of Common Cause, I've never been more optimistic about the opportunity to change that," he said.

    On Monday evening, area legislators joined Heck and others to discuss cleaning up politics and campaign finance reform in Hibbard Humanities Hall.

  • Forum tackles election funding

    April 20, 2009 - Blythe Wachter , Leader-Telegram

    Wisconsin once had a reputation of being a model for clean, accountable state government, but that has changed somewhat in the past 20 years, Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, told a crowd Monday during a forum at UW-Eau Claire.

    Heck pointed to the illegal campaign fundraising scandal involving some state legislators a few years ago, as well as money spent by special-interest groups in recent elections.

    But he said he's "never been more optimistic" about campaign finance reform, pointing to recent "proactive action" taken by state legislators, including legislation introduced by forum speakers Reps. Kristen Dexter, D-Eau Claire, and Jeff Smith, D-Eau Claire; and Sen. Pat Kreitlow, D-Chippewa Falls. Tom Giffey, Leader-Telegram editorial page editor, also was a speaker.

  • Column: Has time for reform finally arrived?

    April 17, 2009 - Tom Giffey, Leader-Telegram

    "I think the tremendous amount of money in the Supreme Court races ... opened a lot of people's eyes to how bad the current system is," says Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin.

    "There is a general perception out there that the corrupt status quo favors those in power, so why would those in power move to change it?" Heck says. However, he adds, more legislators are coming to the conclusion "that it's not good for the public to be cynical about them. ... Because what that also means is that if they do anything good, people will be cynical about that."

  • Winners and losers
    April 16, 2009 - Rick Berg, Isthmus

    "Before closing the book on the last week's electoral showdown, let's wander one last time onto the battlefield to shoot the wounded, award medals for bravery and acknowledge other achievements. To wit:

    Lone Wolf Award: Jay Heck. The head of Common Cause in Wisconsin courageously opposed the flow of shadowy third-party money into the "nonpartisan" races for state Supreme Court and Dane County executive. Heck decried the attack ads launched by the Greater Wisconsin Committee, Advancing Wisconsin and even Planned Parenthood, which told voters, 'Nancy Mistele is dangerous to your health.'"

  • Identify contributors to attack ads
    April 12, 2009 - The Journal Times

    Jay Heck, executive director of the advocacy organization Common Cause Wisconsin, predicted in radio interviews [the Government Accountability Board's rule fix] will tone down some of the vitriol. Formerly anonymous contributors might think twice about signing onto the nastiest ads, knowing their names would be attached.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Common Cause in Wisconsin -- on TV!

Executive Director Jay Heck comments on increasing the beer tax on WKOW Channel 27 News.

"This is a state where in Milwaukee you can take your children into a tavern after church on Sunday and they can be served as long as the parents are there," said Jay Heck of Common Cause Wisconsin.

Heck says a beer tax increase faces huge hurdles -- one of them a powerful state lobby.

"The Tavern League is very well organized in every legislative district and every state senate district," said Heck.

"It becomes a matter of answering to your constituents," said Heck. "If they see people speaking strongly in an organized fashion at the local level against this, legislators aren't going to try to change the status quo and stick their necks out, even though it may be the right thing to do."

For more CC/WI in the News, click here.


Monday, April 6, 2009

How campaigns and television devolved together

A Wisconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
April 5, 2009

By Bill Kraus

In the beginning we didn’t know what to do with television advertising. The medium was new, the reach was questionable, and, worse yet, TV ads were thought to be, if you can believe this, sort of beneath the dignity of politicians.

Then George Henman (I think I have the name right), who created great print advertising for Nelson Rockefeller’s gubernatorial campaigns, legitimatized TV by telling us that we should think of our candidates as Buicks instead of as tubes of toothpaste. And TV ads for candidates were off to the races.

The stuff we were doing in Wisconsin was still pretty amateurish until the Doyle Dane Bernbach ad agency produced ads for Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 campaign against Barry Goldwater. The famous nuclear countdown ad (which ran only once) was what everyone remembers, but the series included ridiculing Goldwater’s social security ideas and his wish to cut off the northeastern states and set them adrift in the Atlantic Ocean.

These ads were not why Johnson won, but they may have turned a flood into a tsunami, and they surely set a new quality standard for political ads which made the making of the ads a lot more expensive.

No more talking heads. Now the candidate commercials had to look as good as those Coca Cola and and Miller Beer were producing.

I dodged this bullet in Warren Knowles's 1966 campaign for governor by hiring the documentary geniuses the Maysles brothers to do cinema verite commercials. They followed the governor around for a week with a camera, showing who Knowles was and what he did as governor.

The good thing about these commercials was they mostly informed, were wholly positive, and they were cheap. Others used the technique in other places, but the cinema verite phase fell out of favor for many reasons, one of which was that it was pretty obvious that they were a lot more cinema than verite.

As campaign consultants came into politics in waves, campaigns got more expensive, more glitzy, and more one-dimensional. The consultants' advice was to spend everything you’ve got on TV, and if there’s anything left over spend that on TV, too.

Inevitably the ads got more aggressive. Candidates talked less about their virtues and more about their opponents' faults, which, of course, led to counterattacks and defensiveness.

A more disturbing trend was the drift to irrelevance, a kind of orchestrated deception.

This political advertising addressed issues that the polls said were important to the voters whether whoever won the office being sought had anything to do with those issues or not.

The appalling thing was these kinds of ads--which are designed to evoke not inform--worked, and political consultants, who are the biggest imitators since football coaches, expanded their use exponentially.

What was not apparent is that irrelevant political advertising is based on several unflattering assumptions: The voters are uninformed, respond to emotional appeals, are uncritical, uninterested, even stupid.

Are you mad yet?

Follow Bill Kraus on:
twitter / wmkraus


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Common Cause
in Wisconsin
Public Forum - Eau Claire

“What Ever Happened to Good Government
in Wisconsin?"

How We Can Fix It and Why It Matters During a Recession

Monday, April 20, 2009

Room 102 – Hibbard Humanities Hall – UW-Eau Claire
Garfield and Park Avenue - Eau Claire, WI
** Free and Open to the Public -- Light Refreshments will be Served **

Please come join in the discussion and learn more about:
  • Campaign finance reform — and why it is needed
  • How money corrupts our elections, public policy, and the state budget process
  • How we can clean up our disgraceful state supreme court elections
  • How reform measures stop corruption and return power to the citizens of Wisconsin
Moderator: Professor Rodd Freitag – Chair, Political Science / UW-Eau Claire


State Representative Kristen Dexter of Eau Claire
State Senator Pat Kreitlow of Chippewa Falls
State Representative Jeff Smith of Eau Claire
Editorial Page Editor Tom Giffey of The Leader-Telegram
Executive Director Jay Heck of Common Cause in Wisconsin

Presented by: Common Cause in Wisconsin
(Underwritten by The Joyce Foundation)

Co-Sponsors: League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Fund, American Association of University Women - Eau Claire Branch, UW-Eau Claire Political Science Department, The Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups

For more information: call Sandra Miller at (608) 658-2109