What Should Be Done Before Year's End

In this update: 1. Legislature should act on reform in December 2. Six steps to sanity 3. Another reform law in Supreme Court’s crosshairs 4. What media should tell peek-a-boo politicians What Should Be Done Before Year’s End

Email date: 11/30/10

In this update:
1. Legislature should act on reform in December
2. Six steps to sanity
3. Another reform law in Supreme Court’s crosshairs
4. What media should tell peek-a-boo politicians

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Legislature should act on reform in December
Legislative leaders are planning to bring members of the Assembly and Senate back into session before the year is out to act on state employee contracts. While they’re at it, they should pass a campaign finance disclosure law at least as strong as the new one in Minnesota.

There is no question that Wisconsin’s disclosure laws are woefully inadequate, as fly-by-night groups are pouring millions of dollars into state elections but are able to keep their donors a secret.

There is no doubt that citizens of every political stripe want to know who is paying for all the campaign advertising we all must endure every election. The most recent New York Times/CBS News poll showed that 92% of Americans want full disclosure of election spending and the donations used to pay for it. That same poll also showed the American people have had more than their fill of political campaigning and want something done about runaway election spending. An astounding 86% say candidate spending should be limited while 72% support limiting spending by outside interest groups.

Another thing state lawmakers could and should do when they meet in December is take the politics out of redistricting by passing a law akin to what was enacted in Iowa back in 1980 turning over authority for redrawing legislative and congressional districts to a highly regarded nonpartisan legislative service agency. Wisconsin has just such an office in the Legislative Reference Bureau. For more on Iowa’s approach, go here.

Speaking of redistricting, the Democracy Campaign has added some new features to the page on our website devoted to our Campaign for Accountable Redistricting, including a redistricting timeline and a collection of informational resources on the subject.

Take action: Contact your legislators to urge them to take action on legislation requiring full disclosure of all election spending and political donations as well as legislation taking the politics out of redistricting by having the Legislative Reference Bureau do it. Tell them our neighbors in Minnesota and Iowa have put Wisconsin to shame in these two areas.

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Six steps to sanity
While state legislators can and should do something about two huge problems plaguing our democracy before 2010 is over, there is much more that eventually needs to be done. Our latest Big Money Blog focuses on six things that belong on the to-do list. It has since been turned into a newspaper column.

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Another reform law in Supreme Court’s crosshairs
The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to consider the legal challenge to Arizona’s system of publicly financed state elections. At issue is a feature of the law that gives participating candidates extra public funds if they face high-spending opponents. This has implications for Wisconsin because our new law establishing public financing for state Supreme Court elections has the same feature that is being attacked on free speech grounds in the Arizona case.

Invoking the First Amendment in the attempt to overturn laws like Arizona’s and Wisconsin’s is curious considering that the offending feature of these laws actually creates more speech by giving poorer candidates the means to get a word in edgewise when they face cash-rich opponents.

Opponents of such reforms clearly want money to talk in politics, and they were delighted in January when the nation’s highest court ruled corporations and other interest groups can spend unlimited amounts of money on elections. Now they want that money to do all the talking in election campaigns and are thus looking to the Supreme Court once again to effectively give them freedom from rebuttal.

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What media should tell peek-a-boo politicians
No interviews, no coverage. If politicians are going to try to avoid answering questions from pesky reporters, then not even their names should be mentioned in election stories. That’s the rule suggested recently in a commentary on Huffington Post that addresses a problem the Democracy Campaign’s director wrote about in a blog in mid-October.

Then again, TV stations in particular have their reasons for liking the status quo, as Erik Gunn points out in his Pressroom Buzz blog.