Defaming Wisconsin, Desecrating Democracy
by Mike McCabe, Executive Director
June 24, 2011
After exterminating any and all public election financing in the state budget and thus handing state elections over entirely to private interests, legislators took steps this week to make it harder for the public to see how special interests are funneling money into political advertising campaigns.
The Legislature’s Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR) voted to approve legislation nullifying what little campaign finance disclosure the state Government Accountability Board has approved. Republicans who control the committee didn’t stop there. In addition to rolling back existing GAB rules they handcuffed the agency, prohibiting any future rulemaking requiring disclosure of corporate electioneering.
They have no problem letting the wealthiest interests buy all the politicians and take ownership of our government. But even they understand that disaster awaits them if these transactions are on public display. So they are conspiring to keep them secret.
This would be despicable if done in isolation, but there is nothing isolated about it. It is part of a deeply disturbing pattern – the latest demonstration of contempt for the public’s right to know, the most recent act of hostility toward democracy.
It’s not just what they are doing that is offensive, but also how they do it. They’ve taken to posting public notices of upcoming actions on some wall in the Capitol. Often there is nothing to be found on the Legislature’s website. Nothing in the newspapers or even on the online political news services.
When we caught wind of legislation to block GAB’s disclosure rules and then tie the agency’s hands, a member of our staff contacted the office of JCRAR co-chair Jim Ott to get a copy and find out the committee’s plans. One of Ott’s staffers rudely blew off the inquiry. When pressed for a copy of the bill, Ott’s aide barked “we’re not trying to hide anything.” Well, then you won’t mind e-mailing us a copy of the bill. Here’s the address. “OK, I just sent it,” claimed the aide. No e-mail ever came.
We eventually were able to get a copy from the office of the committee’s senate co-chair Leah Vukmir late on the day before the vote – which, as it turns out, was well before minority party members of the committee saw it for the first time. Shortly before the committee meeting started, a call to the GAB revealed that the legislation’s target was totally unaware of what was about to happen.
No public hearing was held on the bill. Committee co-chairman Ott claimed that base was covered by a June 2 hearing on the GAB rules themselves. Never mind that the legislation not only nullifies these rules but puts brand new restrictions on GAB rulemaking authority. No need for any public input on that.
The committee hastily voted on strict party lines to move the bill forward, but not before chairman Ott ordered police intervention to stop a young man from filming the proceedings with a camcorder. The man was causing no disturbance; in fact, he said not a word. But still his behavior could not be tolerated. Not one, not two, not three but four uniformed and armed police officers were summoned to handle this breach of peace.
Folks, we need to come to terms with what we are dealing with here. This is creeping fascism.
Wisconsin is defamed by a state budget that amounts to Robin Hood in reverse, one that provides tens of millions of dollars in new tax breaks for the rich and powerful while raising taxes on the working poor by scaling back the Earned Income Tax Credit. This in a state where the progressive income tax was invented.
This budget is a monument to vending machine politics. Huge cuts for schools. Big cuts in health assistance for seniors and the poor and the disabled. Huge spending increases and other favors for the big donors in the road building industry. A gift for the bankers. One for the big brewers too. And for the school privatization crowd. It goes on and on.
Democracy is desecrated when public elections are turned into private auctions. And when public involvement in the affairs of state is treated as an unwelcome intrusion or even a criminal offense. It is desecrated when the rights of working people to organize and collectively bargain are taken away and then again when a state Supreme Court justice writes in a majority opinion that a circuit court judge who threw out this illegally passed bill was wrong to rely on laws that “apply to the Legislature except when the Legislature says they do not.”
Our state has been taken over for the moment by zealots who are enemies of civil society and are disgracing our state. What becomes of Wisconsin depends on how long this moment is allowed to last.