Fightin' Bob Must Be Smiling

In this update: 1. New reform breathes life into old reform 2. Chief justice speaks out about threat to courts 3. Who will tell the people? Fightin' Bob Must Be Smiling

Email date: 11/13/08

In this update:
1. New reform breathes life into old reform
2. Chief justice speaks out about threat to courts
3. Who will tell the people?

Not only does the electioneering disclosure rule OK’d by the Government Accountability Board on Tuesday lift the cloak off special interest groups that have been covertly influencing state elections through so-called "issue ad" campaigns, it also restores meaning to existing state laws limiting campaign contributions that are no longer worth the paper they’re written on because the issue ad loophole makes them so easy to circumvent.

Among these laws is one of the greatest political reforms in Wisconsin’s history – the ban on corporate campaign contributions that was enacted by Fighting Bob La Follette and his allies in 1906. That reform made citizens more important than capital in state politics for 90 years until corporate-sponsored campaign ads first appeared in 1996 that danced around the law with a semantic two-step that involved carefully avoiding the use of what’s come to be known as the "magic words," namely phrases such as vote for or vote against.

To read some of the newspaper coverage of Tuesday’s action, go here and here. For radio coverage, go here.

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Nowhere would the impact of the Government Accountability Board’s rule be more apparent than in future races for state Supreme Court. Twice in as many days, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson sounded the alarm about what money and partisanship is doing to the high court. She first made remarks on Tuesday in La Crosse, and hit the same theme in her "State of the Judiciary" address yesterday. Two other members of the court will be weighing in on the subject of justice, money and politics at a UW Law School forum next Tuesday that is co-sponsored by the Democracy Campaign.

It is not likely that public and legislative review of the GAB’s rule can be completed in time for it to be in effect for next spring’s Supreme Court election. But while reforms may not be in place in time for the next high court race, they could very well be on their way shortly thereafter. As we reported last week, the majority of members in the new Legislature are on record in support of both the Impartial Justice bill creating publicly financed Supreme Court elections as well as full disclosure of special interest electioneering.

In addition, after Janesville Democrat Mike Sheridan was chosen as the new Assembly speaker, he told reporters that campaign finance reform is at the top of his list of priorities for the upcoming legislative session.

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For the entire lifespan of our republic, newspapers have been central to how we learn about what’s going on in our government. But the business model upon which the newspaper industry was built is coming apart at the seams, and increasingly it looks like this medium could go the way of the dinosaur. Delve more deeply into what’s happening and why by going here.

If good journalism is no longer good business, we’ve got a big problem.