Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Change in a time of beholdenism

isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
November 22, 2011

By Bill Kraus

As the occupiers, recallers, and other malcontents are about to learn, the mostly invincible incumbents who occupy our legislatures are largely deaf, dumb, and blind to their supplications.

As a veteran of multiple failed attempts to alter the electoral status quo, I feel equipped to offer several warnings and a little helpful advice.

The first warning is that enormous power has devolved on legislative leaders. The political parties, since they lost the power to recruit, slate, fund and manage campaigns, are noisy paper tigers. The tea party types and possibly the occupiers (if they get serious about acquiring power) could do some of this, but for the most part the legislative leaders are filling the pipeline. Are they filling it with rambunctious, aggressive, creative talents? They are not. They want lemmings. Empty suits. Followers. To a very large extent they seem to have gotten what they want in our state.

This means that anyone who wants something the legislative leaders do not want has his or her work cut out for him or her.

The legislative leaders think they know where they got their power and are not going to do anything to annoy those to whom they are beholden for their power and prestige. The legislative leaders reject changes that remove some of the threats to their well-being more or less routinely. They know how they got where they are and will rebuff any ideas that threaten their routes to power.

They are beholden to the status quo generally. More specifically they are beholden to anyone or any organization that is or are organized to deliver money to their campaigns and campaign organizations or that threaten their incumbencies in other ways.

Examples of the latter are organizations like the NRA (the National Rifle Association) and AARP (the American Association of Retired Persons). For reasons that befuddle me, these organizations, which do not contribute money or associate with either political party, almost always get their way. I concede that the golden oldies are not as formidable as they were once, but the NRA rules everywhere but in Illinois of all places.

Money suppliers are revered, respected and protected, which is understandable in a money-driven political system. This seems to be inevitable. It is not always reprehensible.

Where money goes astray is when it is connected to ideology. The most egregious are the single-issue organizations that want their contributions to be unfettered and anonymous.

One of the electoral reform ideas that everyone once respected and even urged, and that an otherwise deaf, dumb, and blind U.S. Supreme Court has approved and even recommended, is the disclosure of the names of contributors to organizations that participate alongside candidates’ campaigns in supporting or opposing candidacies.

It is no secret that the Wisconsin Right to Life organization has told its supporters on both sides of the aisle that disclosure of contributors would dry up the organization’s funding. Is that why a Democratic Assembly Speaker trashed a disclosure bill and why a Republican Assembly Speaker has said he will refuse to consider one? I’ll listen to a better reason if anyone has one.

Since secret contributors fund organizations on the anarchistic right and the socialistic left which interfere with and hijack campaigns without compunction, one would think that the candidates in those campaigns would want to know who their real enemies (the contributors) are so they could mount specific counterattacks. One would be wrong.

Money is golden. Secret money is whatever is more precious than gold.

The malcontents are about to learn that unless they or their goals come to the battle armed with large amounts of money, or their followers are disciplined, predictable lock step voters who can be relied on to turn out on election day, they are going to get what those of us who have been trying to clean up and reform campaign spending for years have received.

It’s called the brush-off.

Follow Bill Kraus on:
twitter / wmkraus


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Political Reform Draws Big Crowd in Oshkosh / Protecting the GAB

Common Cause in Wisconsin Reform Update - November 11, 2011

  1. Standing Room Only in Oshkosh
  2. Keeping the Government Accountability Board Independent and Effective
  3. Should We Continue to Elect or Should We Consider Appointing State Supreme Court Justices?

1. This past Monday evening more than 200 citizens in Oshkosh attended another Common Cause in Wisconsin forum entitled "What Ever Happened to Good Government in Wisconsin -- and How Can We Fix it?"

Just two weeks before the Oshkosh forum a capacity crowd of 160 attended a similar forum in Wausau.

Clearly there is great hunger throughout the state for reforming Wisconsin's current political system that has been denigrated and assaulted in the last year in particular.

 In 2011, Governor Scott Walker and his legislative allies totally wiped out Wisconsin's once effective public financing system -- including the less-than-two-year-old Impartial Justice Law which had set spending limits and eliminated troubling and conflicting private campaign contributions to candidates for the Wisconsin Supreme Court. They blocked a rule that would have required outside special interest groups to disclose the donors supplying the tens of millions of dollars of special interest group spending that dominated the Supreme Court election last spring and the State Senate Recall elections last summer -- and which will flow again in the upcoming Recall election of Walker later this fall, winter and spring. They imposed on Wisconsin the most extreme and restrictive Voter Photo ID law in the entire United States -- more restrictive than Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina! And they have done more damage to Wisconsin's Open Meetings Law, installed political appointments in the top rungs of the Executive Branch, tried to eviscerate the power of the independent Government Accountability Board (more on that below) and more.

The citizens of Oshkosh on November 7th (and in Wausau on October 24th) were clearly concerned. The three legislators who participated in the panel in Oshkosh were visibly surprised by the huge turnout and interest in these issues. The panelists included CC/WI Director Jay Heck, Democratic State Senator Jessica King, Democratic State Representative Gordon Hintz and Republican State Representative Richard Spanbauer. Also on the panel were former Republican Assembly candidate Jonathan Krause and UW-Oshkosh Professors Tony Palmeri (communications) and Jim Simmons (political science). Jim Fitizhenry, the managing editor of the Oshkosh Northwestern moderated the discussion. There were many questions and comments from the audience which consisted of citizens of all ages from UW-Oshkosh and from Oshkosh and many surrounding communities.

For coverage of the forum go here and here and here. To watch the Oshkosh forum in its entirety, see Wisconsin Eye's coverage of the event here.

2. Since the beginning of the year, Governor Scott Walker and the Fitzgerald brothers have attempted to weaken state agency rule-making authority and legislative oversight of those agencies. They have passed a law giving the Governor veto authority over administrative rules promulgated by state agencies - a function that formerly had been the exclusive province of the Legislature and -- in particular -- the Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR).

In 2010, JCRAR did not object to a rule promulgated by the independent Government Accountability Board (GAB) that required outside special interest groups to disclose their donors for widely-disseminated communications intended to influence the outcome of an election and made 60 days or less before an election. This common sense rule was blocked by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in August of 2010 and then totally eliminated earlier this year by a JCRAR under new leadership -- State Senator Leah Vukmir (R-Wauwatosa) and Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon) in collusion with the Walker Administration.

The GAB was established in 2007 and was devised to be independent and non-partisan by its architect -- State Senator Michael Ellis (R-Neenah) together with CC/WI, which led the effort to get it considered and passed in the Legislature. But that independence is under assault.

Read this excellent editorial from Tuesday's Wisconsin State Journal which calls for the passage and enactment into law legislation that would provide the GAB with a greater measure of independence - Assembly Bill 355, introduced by State Representative Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie) and State Senator Fred Risser (D-Madison). Call your legislators and urge them to support this important legislation.

Yesterday, the GAB acted very courageously and voted unanimously to reverse a previous position they had taken. The GAB now says that Wisconsin Techincal College identification cards should be an accepted form of photo ID that can be shown at the polls. They also now say that stickers can be put on existing student ID cards at Wisconsin's colleges and universities to satisfy a ridiculous new expiration date requirement included in the new and horrific Voter Photo ID Law. For more on this development go here.

3. In the wake of last spring's $6 million vicious election for the Wisconsin State Supreme Court -- and with the repeal by Governor Walker and state legislative Republicans of the Impartial Justice Law which provided public financing and spending limits for State Supreme Court elections -- are elections for the Wisconsin Supreme Court still viable and tenable? Or should Wisconsin look at a merit selection process for Supreme Court Justices like many other states, including Iowa and Missouri have? Or should there be a hybrid of the two very different systems?

CC/WI Director Jay Heck was a panelist at a Milwaukee forum recently that considered this question. Former State Supreme Court candidate (1997) Walt Kelly was also on the panel that appeared on Wisconsin Public Television. You can view the forum here. Let us know what you think!

Jay Heck, Executive Director
Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI 53703

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

CC/WI to Hold Campaign and Election Reform Public Forum
November 7th at UW-Oshkosh

Press Release
November 2, 2011

Jay Heck – 608/256-2686


Monday Evening, November 7th

6:30 - 8:00 PM

Reeve Union - Ballroom 227C
748 Algoma Blvd, Oshkosh, WI

Wisconsin has experienced unprecedented political turmoil and upheaval in 2011. The state once known as the “laboratory for democracy” has undergone tumultuous change in the way it will conduct elections and consider public policy in the future. And the core political fabric of Wisconsin – once heralded as a national model – has been dramatically transformed this year.

Are these changes detrimental to our state’s political process or were they needed and will they improve it?

Prior to 2011, public financing of statewide and legislative elections, including state supreme court races, helped ensure that our legislators and our state’s highest court were beholden to the public rather than to powerful special interest groups with deep pockets for the financing of their campaigns. Wisconsin was one of the first states in the nation to implement a public financing system back in 1977. In a stunning move, Governor Scott Walker and his legislative allies gutted the state’s public financing system by raiding its funding source in order to help pay for implementation of the new Photo Voter ID law. The new “Impartial Justice” Law that provided full public financing to state supreme court candidates, who agreed to abide by spending limits of $400,000, was repealed after less than two years of its enactment.

On May 25th, Governor Scott Walker signed the Photo Voter Photo ID Bill into law— transforming Wisconsin from one of the easiest states in the country in which to cast a ballot to the most restrictive state in the nation in which to vote. Proponents of this new law insist that its objective is to prevent voter fraud. But was voter fraud really a problem in Wisconsin? Or, was the real goal of this measure to decrease voter turnout -- currently the second highest in the nation?

These and other campaign and election reform issues are more important than ever as we deal with the continuing fallout of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission— a decision that, among other things, allows corporations, labor unions and other interest groups to use unlimited money from their general treasury coffers to run outside communications, providing these entities with far greater influence on the outcome of elections at both the federal and state levels. And the citizens of Wisconsin are still in the dark about who is really behind this flood of “outside” campaign spending and the constant barrage of interest group “phony issue ads” we see during the election season. 

Is this lack of disclosure "free speech" or is it a perversion of democracy?

How will the Citizens United decision affect Wisconsin and does it matter? How can we find out who is really behind those vicious attack ads and is it important that we know? Will the new Photo Voter ID law prevent voter fraud? Or will it disenfranchise students, urban dwellers, minority groups, the elderly and disabled -- and ultimately depress voter turnout in Wisconsin? And should redistricting be taken out of the hands of partisan legislators and put into the hands of a non-partisan entity to draw congressional and legislative districts as required by law every ten years?

These important political reform issues and others will be the focus of discussion in Oshkosh this coming Monday evening during one in a series of "reform forums" held across the state by CC/WI: 

"What Ever Happened to Good Government
in Wisconsin?
And How Can We Fix It?"

Panelists will include:

State Senator Jessica King (D-Oshkosh)
State Representative Richard Spanbauer (R-Oshkosh)
State Representative Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh)
Jonathan Krause, Program/News Director - WOSH Radio & former GOP candidate for the state Assembly
Political Science Professor James Simmons of UW-Oshkosh

Communications Professor Tony Palmeri of UW-Oshkosh
Executive Director Jay Heck of Common Cause in Wisconsin

Jim Fitzhenry - Managing Editor of the Oshkosh Northwestern - will serve as Moderator.

Please join us at this free public forum for what we anticipate will be a lively discussion.

Full details can be found here.

Jay Heck, Executive Director
Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI 53703

- Revised 11/6/2011


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

In the News - November 2011