Update on Special Session

In this update: 1. Special session formally begins, but action will wait until January 2. Frankenstein to face voters; AT&T’s cable bill goes to governor’s desk 3. Another national group weighs in on condition of Wisconsin’s campaign finance system 4. FCC chairman ignoring public testimony, plowing ahead with media ownership rewrite Update on Special Session

Email date: 12/12/07

In this update:
1. Special session formally begins, but action will wait until January
2. Frankenstein to face voters; AT&T’s cable bill goes to governor’s desk
3. Another national group weighs in on condition of Wisconsin’s campaign finance system
4. FCC chairman ignoring public testimony, plowing ahead with media ownership rewrite

The Legislature met briefly in special session yesterday before adjourning the session on campaign finance reform until January 15. This was expected and is in keeping with how the Democracy Campaign and other reform advocates believe the special session should proceed.

There is a lot of work to do between now and mid-January to set the stage for the Legislature to reconvene in special session to act on campaign finance reform legislation.

Over the nex t several weeks, we urge you to contact your legislators and the governor to voice your support for prompt action on strong reforms. To do that, go here.

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After briefly going in and out of special session yesterday, the Legislature acted on a number of items of interest in regular session. The Senate unanimously approved a proposed constitutional amendment limiting the so-called "Frankenstein veto," which likely means the amendment will go to the voters in this April’s election.

If approved, the constitutional amendment would curtail the practice of governors stitching together different parts of a bill to create a whole new law. But as the Democracy Campaign’s director told the Wisconsin Radio Network, it wouldn’t eliminate it.

The Assembly also gave final approval to AT&T’s cable TV bill, clearing the way for the bill to go to the governor. Democracy Campaign research has shined light on special interest campaign contributions that have poured in as this controversial legislation has sailed through the Legislature, and we’ve highlighted other unseemly aspects of the push for the bill’s passage in our Big Money Blog.

Backers of the cable bill claim it will create competition and lower cable TV rates. Almost identical legislation already is on the books in Texas and rates have gone up, not down. In Illinois, lawmakers convinced AT&T to agree to a deal that includes better protections for consumers and public access television stations as well as guarantees that cable companies will serve all parts of the state and not just those communities with large numbers of potential subscribers where the biggest profits can be made.

Now that the bill is headed for Governor Doyle’s desk, the governor should be asking the same question Wisconsin legislators ought to have been asking: Why can’t Wisconsin get the same deal that AT&T already has agreed to in Illinois?

Oh yes, the state Assembly debated and then voted 84-12 to change the name of the "holiday tree" that stands in the Capitol rotunda to the state Christmas tree. It has been known as the holiday tree since 1985. Whether the Senate spends any time debating this burning question is unknown but is considered unlikely.

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The California-based Center for Governmental Studies recently completed a top-to-bottom review of Wisconsin’s campaign finance system and found it "broken" but "certainly not beyond repair." The national group’s report concludes Wisconsin has "failed to keep up with the times" and says our state’s public financing program "now is practically defunct."

The study notes that Wisconsin had a "proud tradition of being a leader on campaign finance issues" and once had a "model public financing program." But the assessment says Wisconsin’s system has "fallen into disrepair" and has "deteriorated into an un-usable program." Without significant reform, the system will "continue to go un-used and may eventually disappear altogether."

This is the second time this year a respected national research organization specializing in campaign finance issues has issued a stinging indictment of the condition of Wisconsin’s system. In February, New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice issued a study that also found Wisconsin’s campaign finance system in poor condition and in need of substantial repair.

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You wonder why the Federal Communications Commission even bothers holding public hearings. Despite the fact that nearly 99% of the public comments the FCC received at hearings this year have been in opposition to changing the nation’s media ownership rules, the commission’s chairman continues to try to ram through rule changes that would allow big media conglomerates to gobble up even more local media outlets. If the FCC won’t listen, it’s up to Congress to hear citizens and act in the public interest. Federal legislation called the Media Ownership Act of 2007 has been introduced to rein in the FCC. To take action in support of this effort, go here.