hearts and minds

August 6, 2006

Fixing the coop, or covering up the raids?

The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute introduced its latest citizen survey with a big bang. Only 5% of Wisconsinites now believe that the ethics of our state legislators is better than in the past, while 42% believe that our state legislators ethics have gotten worse. Only 6% of Wisconsinites believe that elected officials represent the actual interests of their constituents, while 87% believe that elected state officials represent their OWN interests and/or what WPRI termed “special interests”. The percentages represented by 5 and 6 percent have never been so low, and the percentages represented by 42 and 87 percent have never been so high. The report concludes, “Unfortunately, Wisconsin citizens are clearly saying that they think lobbyists have much more influence than they (citizens) do, and that is negatively affecting the ethics in state government.”

There are several bills now before our state legislature that address ethics and elections and campaign financing. Let’s look at these bills, and at where our own local state legislators in Ozaukee and Washington counties stand (or don’t stand) on them.

Senate Bill 1 proposes to replace the existing Ethics Board and the existing State Elections Board with a single independent Government Accountability Board, which would have authority to enforce ethics and election law violations by initiating prosecution of alleged violators. The existing boards are inefficient political appointees with no teeth, and prosecution of violations depends entirely on a district attorney, who just might have a political or personal incentive to look the other way or drag his or her feet, rather than drag a colleague into court. This is especially true in counties, like ours, where there is yet no effective opposition to one ruling clique.

Well, hallelujah, Senate Bill 1 passed the Republican majority State Senate by a lopsided vote. Alberta Darling voted for it. But Glenn Grothman was one of only five who tried to derail this bill. SB 1 is now before the Assembly. Suzanne Jeskewitz supports SB 1. But that’s where Assembly support seems to end in Ozaukee and Washington Counties. Pat Strachota and (the staffs of) Curt Gielow, Dan LeMahieu, and Don Pridemore assert “no position” on the Ethics and Election Board reform bill. Mark Gottlieb has reservations about the authority of the new Board to initiate prosecution of law violations. I’m not sure what Mark’s specific objection is to this, but we can all relate. Run a stop sign, you hope there’s not a cop around the corner. If there is one there, you hope it’s your favorite cousin. SB1 would place an unrelated cop on the beat.

There are three purported campaign finance reform bills before the state legislature.

Assembly Bill 626 proposes public financing of elections, very similar to the systems that are being used with great success in Maine and Arizona. Public financing is the only way to return access and control of representative government to the people. And (this may surprise you) it is far less costly than the present system of “campaign contributions” from extremely well-heeled and corporate contributors.

It is the only way because of two strange legalistic distortions. Recall that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was enacted after the Civil War to guarantee Constitutional rights to freed slaves and their descendants. Well, a legal distortion in 1886, at the start of the Gilded Age, twisted the 14th to imply that corporations are “persons” and have the same rights as human beings. Second distortion; a 1976 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court asserts that unlimited money spent by corporations to influence elections, and elected officials, and the political parties that support and discipline them, is permitted by the 1st Amendment as “free speech”. A result of these two absurdities is that most attempts to break this corrupt system of legalized bribery are rejected on legal grounds, or are shot full of loopholes. Public financing solves this problem.

Public financing is the less costly way because we people pay the taxes necessary to pay for the pork barrel, the corporate subsidies, the engineered tax loopholes, and the laws and regulations written to order, which are secured by lobbyists whose influence is greased by “contributions”. An important secret is that those hidden taxes and costs are far more expensive to all of us than a proven system of public financing would be.

Assembly Bill 392 is another campaign reform bill that would close gaping loopholes regarding “issue ads”, require full disclosure of contributions, and provide adequate funding. Like AB 626, it is endorsed by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which has been publicly holding both Democratic and Republican elected state official feet to the fire of ethical accountability.

In all of Ozaukee and Washington counties, only Assemblyperson Suzanne Jeskewitz has expressed support for public financing of elections. Boiled down to its essence, all of our other local state senators and legislators tell us to ‘Fugetaboutit’.

Assembly Bill 226 (Senate Bill 46) purports to be a campaign finance reform bill. But it doesn’t provide adequate funding to do the job. And it does not mandate full disclosure of who is providing the financing for so-called “issue ads”. These are huge loopholes. It’s the most compromised of the “reform” bills. With two repairs – the inclusion of an adequate funding source, and a requirement that interest groups disclose the source of money they use to pay for campaign ads – SB46/AB226 would become a highly effective remedy to runaway campaign fundraising and spending as well as the political corruption this campaign arms race promotes. But if your representatives continue to fail to support a strong, effective bill, it will be déjà vu all over again.

With the exception of Assemblywoman Jeskewitz’ expressed support for SB1 and for significant campaign finance reform, and Senator Darling’s vote on SB 1, our Ozaukee and Washington county state legislators are striking out so far on ethics and elections reforms that could make a real difference. Stop the sale of access and don’t insult us by denying that legislation is for sale in our state government. The people are getting smart enough to spot a heist – and a sham bill.

November 23, 2005

Email to sen.lastname@legis.state.wi.us or rep.lastname@legis.state.wi.us
Senator Grothman (800-662-1227) Senator Darling (608-266-5830)
Rep. Gottlieb (888-534-0060) Rep. Jeskewitz (888-529-0024)
Rep. Strachota (608-264-8486) Rep. Ott (888-534-0023)
Rep. LeMahieu (888-534-0059) Rep. Pridemore (888-534-0099)

For more info, see http://www.wisdc.org and http://www.commoncause.org and http://www.wpri.org. and http://www.throwtherascalsout.org

1 Comment »

  1. […] (Ethics Reform, Act 1) was an important reform victory (following years of persistent grassroots effort) over a very few hard case legislators […]

    Pingback by How Wisconsin Legislators Voted on Conservation Issues « hearts and minds — April 3, 2008 @ 2:37 pm | Reply

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