Oxymorons and Other Kinds

In this update: 1. When ‘representative democracy’ becomes an oxymoron 2. Effort to improve public access to officials’ finances falls by wayside 3. States responding to Citizens United ruling Oxymorons and Other Kinds

Email date: 5/18/10

In this update:
1. When ‘representative democracy’ becomes an oxymoron
2. Effort to improve public access to officials’ finances falls by wayside
3. States responding to Citizens United ruling

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When ‘representative democracy’ becomes an oxymoron
An editorial in Sunday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel cites the Democracy Campaign’s recent report on campaign contributions to state lawmakers from the alcohol industry and rightly questions just who is being represented in our “representative democracy.” The Journal Sentinel concluded that the “inaction or weak action on drunken driving and other issues is a symptom that has a cure: campaign finance reform.” And the newspaper called on legislators to return for a special session to act on at least one of those needed reforms. To add your voice to those calling for a special session, go here.

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Effort to improve public access to officials’ finances falls by wayside
“So much was left undone by the state Legislature in its recently concluded session,” the Journal Sentinel correctly noted in its editorial. One of the less prominent victims of legislative inaction was a proposal supported by the Democracy Campaign to shine more light on the personal finances of public officials, thus giving citizens important insight into whether those officials have conflicts of interest as they do the public's business. A story over the weekend in the Appleton Post-Crescent focused on this bit of unfinished business at the Capitol.

Lawmakers got some other work done but just not very well, as this Post-Crescent editorial chronicles. The newspaper lays the blame on dysfunction at the Capitol and the effects of lobbying.

Another article points to the higher-than-usual number of legislators who are not seeking reelection this year and focuses on the growing extremism and polarization in Wisconsin politics. A rarely mentioned contributing factor is the way legislative districts are drawn. In their zeal to fashion “safe” seats for incumbents, legislative leaders draw districts with large numbers of voters from one party. These lopsided districts inevitably produce representatives who are zealous partisans, thereby intensifying the ideological extremism and political polarization in state legislatures and Congress. That's why the Democracy Campaign and partner groups throughout the Midwest are working together on a regional campaign to improve the redistricting process.

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States responding to Citizens United ruling
With less than a half an hour before the end of its legislative session on May 16, Minnesota’s Legislature did something Wisconsin’s could not, namely approve legislation requiring greater disclosure of election spending by corporations and labor unions. Minnesota became the fifth state to strengthen disclosure laws in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. For more on how states are responding to the Citizens United ruling, go here.