Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

Category: Campaign Finance Reform (page 2 of 4)

The Big Chill on Political Speech

It’s become a common theme on this blog – why the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board’s unilateral attempt to seize regulation of political speech during campaigns is an affront to the First Amendment.  Their goal is to regulate advertisements during election time by forcing third-party groups to disclose their donors – whether these donors actually knew their money was going to be used for these ads or not.  In any event, most people likely think more disclosure is a good thing – why wouldn’t we want to know who is paying for these ads?

Well, here’s why.  Even as distasteful as many of these TV and print ads are, these groups have First Amendment rights, too.  Anonymous political speech has been a cornerstone of our system since our nation’s founding.  The Federalist Papers were written anonymously.  We vote anonymously.  Allowing people to speak their mind without fear of retribution encourages the “marketplace of ideas” of which Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was so fond.  Outing the identity of people with unpopular political opinions only serves as prior restraint on political speech.

While this all sounds wonderful in theory, we have a recent case that exposes what problems these transparency laws cause.  This weekend, the New York Times began to notice what is happening to people in California that contributed to pro-Proposition 8 causes:

FOR the backers of Proposition 8, the state ballot measure to stop single-sex couples from marrying in California, victory has been soured by the ugly specter of intimidation.

A Web site takes names and ZIP codes of donors supporting the measure and overlays data on a map.
Some donors to groups supporting the measure have received death threats and envelopes containing a powdery white substance, and their businesses have been boycotted.

The targets of this harassment blame a controversial and provocative Web site, eightmaps.com.

The site takes the names and ZIP codes of people who donated to the ballot measure – information that California collects and makes public under state campaign finance disclosure laws – and overlays the data on a Google map.

Visitors can see markers indicating a contributor’s name, approximate location, amount donated and, if the donor listed it, employer. That is often enough information for interested parties to find the rest – like an e-mail or home address. The identity of the site’s creators, meanwhile, is unknown; they have maintained their anonymity.

Eightmaps.com is the latest, most striking example of how information collected through disclosure laws intended to increase the transparency of the political process, magnified by the powerful lens of the Web, may be undermining the same democratic values that the regulations were to promote.

[…]

Joseph Clare, a San Francisco accountant who donated $500 to supporters of Proposition 8, said he had received several e-mail messages accusing him of “donating to hate.” Mr. Clare said the site perverts the meaning of disclosure laws that were originally intended to expose large corporate donors who might be seeking to influence big state projects.

“I don’t think the law was designed to identify people for direct feedback to them from others on the other side,” Mr. Clare said. “I think it’s been misused.”

Many civil liberties advocates, including those who disagree with his views on marriage, say he has a point. They wonder if open-government rules intended to protect political influence of the individual voter, combined with the power of the Internet, might be having the opposite effect on citizens.

“These are very small donations given by individuals, and now they are subject to harassment that ultimately makes them less able to engage in democratic decision making,” said Chris Jay Hoofnagle, senior fellow at the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology at the University of California.

Imagine if people who gave to anti-Proposition 8 causes were being harassed in such a way.  The pro-Prop 8 people would be hung in effigy.

But whether you gave 5 bucks or $500 to either cause, your privacy should be protected.  Subjecting people to this type of intimidation only ensures that none of them will ever take part in the political process again.  As such, the public debate forum will be closed for business, which only opens the door for even shadier characters to hijack the election process.

Who Could Have Predicted This GAB Meltdown?

Back in September of last year, I went on television and called the Government Accountability Board the most “bumbling bureaucracy” possible.  As it turns out, I may have been giving them too much credit.

Perhaps you remember the love letter the GAB sent to themselves in the form of a self-congratulatory press release in December.  In this letter, they patted themselves on the back for the great job they’ve done in spending $1 million to put together a state finance website.

What they didn’t mention, and what I pointed out at the time, is that the Elections Division is nearly a decade late in delivering an electronic campaign finance system that works.  They have spent millions since 1999 in trying to come up with a program that a first-year computer science student at the UW could develop.

In the last couple of days, campaigns have begun to use the new system, and have found it to be incomprehensible.  It runs extremely slow, is replete with bugs and broken links, and doesn’t work properly with the Firefox browser.  On top of that, the system has crashed, so reports cannot be filed on time.  In response, GAB Elections Division director Kevin Kennedy issued this CYA letter today:

A number of Legislators have raised concerns about the Government Accountability Board’s new Campaign Finance Information System and the staff’s responsiveness to problems that you or your campaign treasurers have encountered. Although we anticipated that there would be problems and concerns with any new system, we have been surprised by the number. We apologize for the anxiety this has created.

We want to assure you that we are committed to having a user-friendly, intuitive reporting system that will, at the same time, bring to the citizens of this State enhanced transparency and unprecedented accessibility to information about the financing of political campaigns in Wisconsin.

Translation: remember that expensive new system we were bragging about a month ago?  Well, it’s completely hosed.

In the release, Kennedy throws out more excuses, like “there really is no good time to introduce a new reporting system.”  Perhaps he has forgotten this press release he issued in November that brags about the system being tested and ready to go:

“The new system will be ready for public use at the beginning of 2009,” said Kevin Kennedy, Director of the Government Accountability Board. “This will be a giant step forward for public information about campaign spending in Wisconsin.”

“Development of the new system has gone well,” said Jonathan Becker, Ethics and Accountability Division Administrator. “We expect all candidates and committees registered with the State to use the CFIS to report for the period ending December 31, 2008.”

Yep, nothing to see here – the thing’s running smooth as a gravy sandwich.  Until people actually had to start using it.

And if that’s not enough, blogger Dan Cody did the Lord’s work and actually started looking through the bids made by businesses to get the contract with the GAB.  As it turns out, the bungled system cost twice as much as we were originally told:

To say $2 million for a web site that has less functionality than my weblog is an understatement. After spending a considerable amount of time going over the documents I got from the GAB in response to my open records request, it became clear to me that PCC Technology Group was, to put it mildly, fleecing the people of Wisconsin.

Boy, if only someone could have seen this coming.  The lesson here is simple: Every dollar sent to the GAB is akin to lighting that dollar on fire.  Amazingly, this is the bureaucracy we charge with running clean and orderly elections.  Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, does it?

Oh, and one last thing – if they could get the campaign finance reports from NOVEMBER up on their website, that would be great.  You know, those things that are supposed to provide us with transparency in elections.

Stimulating a Heart Attack

Seeing as how we are a think tank, I sat down today to think about the stimulus package as passed by the House last week.  Quickly, as it is wont to do, my mind wandered to the subject of food.  I tried thinking about the trillion dollar stimulus package again.  Then more food.  Stimulus… hot dog… stimulus… hot dog.

Then it came to me – my brain was reminding me of something.  A while ago, I read about the “hot dog rollup,” an attempt by some college kids to come up with the most unhealthy food of all time.  This coronary delight (to which was ascribed the name “The Last Supper” by my wife) included a hot dog rolled in bacon, then rolled in egg-soaked ground beef and topped with butter and cheese.  For a full play-by-play account of the creation of this Frankenweiner, go here. (Those who lived after eating it give at a thumbs-up.)

In effect, the stimulus bill is the legal equivalent of the hot dog rollup.  To call the bill “pork” does a disservice to swine across the nation.  It is comprised of  special interest favors, heaped on top of contributor paybacks, slathered with a healthy dose of social engineering, all on a buttery roll.  Charles Krauthammer has called it “the largest earmark bill – earmark, but without stealth, just out in the open-of special interests, favors, parochial interests, in American history.”

Take, for instance, the “Buy America” provisions of the bill that require steel paid for by stimulus funds to come from American sources.  As people who actually do business in these areas have pointed out, this provision is almost certain to spark a trade war that could depress the economy even further.  Most members of Congress probably think “Smoot-Hawley” is a company that makes canned apricots.   We’ve been down this road before, with disastrous results.

Yet the “Buy America” provision is merely a giveaway to union workers, the overwhelming majority of whom vote for and contribute money to Democrats.  The  bill sends billions of dollars to states to prop up their government programs – which special interest groups like the teachers’ union and human service advocates spend generously during campaigns to protect.

As a result, I will be here at my computer waiting, patiently, for “good government” groups like the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and Common Cause to condemn this bill for all its special interest giveaways.  The Democracy Campaign keeps trying to convince us that our corrupt government for sale to the highest bidder – no better chance to point that out than when Congress passes the largest lard-laden bill in American history.

Of course, this is a joke – because these “good government” groups are merely a front for liberals to push their ideology under the guise of cleaning up campaign finance.  If they truly wished to clean up the system, they’d be cranking out press release after press release condemning the stimulus package.  But since it was passed by their Democratic brethren, you will hear nothing but crickets from their phony outrage factories.

In fact, for the Democracy Campaign, corruption only apparently exists when the Legislature passes tax cuts, rather than new spending.  Their evidence that the Wisconsin Legislature is corrupt is based almost solely on how many tax exemptions we have – not on how much spending we do to appease their big-government tastes.  So, if you’re scoring at home:

Letting you keep more of your own money = “corrupt”

Using government to distribute your money to a select group of campaign contributors = “stimulus.”

Perhaps I’m being too negative.  I’m sure their criticism of the biggest special interest spending spree in American history is forthcoming.  If you see it, let me know – I’ll be out riding on my unicorn with Natalie Portman.

A New Phony Scandal

Today, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel manages to do the nearly impossible: it almost makes me feel sorry for former Democratic State Representative Dave Travis.

The Journal Sentinel uncovered the fact that Travis retired from the Legislature a couple days early last year, in order to avoid taking a hit on his retirement payments.  By leaving the job six days early, Travis dodged the damaging effects of the Wall Street meltdown last year – the same strategy used by hundreds of other state employees.

I realize as a think tank, we’re generally supposed to be critical of legislators.  If they’re not up to no good, why do we even exist?  But on this one, wasn’t Travis  simply doing what any normal, rational human being would do?  Can any employee of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel say with a straight face that they would have sat by and watched their retirement take a $70 per month hit on principle?

Then, predictably, the Journal Sentinal goes to the bullpen to call in their phony scandal expert, Jay Heck of Common Cause.  Heck (who I happen to like a great deal, incidentally) dutifully delivers this laughable quote:

Jay Heck, executive director of the nonprofit Common Cause in Wisconsin, said Travis’ early resignation was legal. But the action will “further undermine people’s confidence in state government,” Heck said.

“In a sense, there’s a take-the-money-and-run aspect to it,” Heck said. “As an elected official, you would have hoped for something better.”

So my confidence in state government is supposed to be eroded because one meaningless, backbenching legislator did the rational thing and retired early to save money?  Any word on the hundreds of other state employees who did the same thing and make a lot more than Dave Travis?  (Granted, some of the sizzle in this story is due to Travis’ cantankerous declarations that he should have been making more money all along.)

Here at WPRI, we do poll after poll that shows public trust in the Legislature eroding.  Much of it is certainly deserved.  But a great deal of it is fed by professional scandal mongers whose livelihoods depend on convincing people all their elected officials are corrupt.  As a result, the public has more trouble telling when corruption actually occurs.

If there’s a lesson here, perhaps it is that state employee benefits are too generous.  Many of them pay nothing and stand to gain huge payouts upon retirement – which leads to some game playing when it’s time to leave.  Travis’ retirement won’t cost the taxpayers an extra dime – the money has already been set aside for years in the state retirement fund.  But to make a phony scandal out of Travis doing what any reasonable human would do seems to be a substantial reach.

On the other hand, perhaps we should pay more attention to stories like this, where Democratic Majority Leader Tom Nelson explains that his caucus may still be able to forge ahead with their legislative agenda, despite a special interest laying off staff:

Two Fox Valley legislators think legislation to toughen state drunken driving laws will proceed even as the state office of Mothers Against Drunk Driving announced job cuts.

[…]

State Rep. Tom Nelson, D-Kaukauna, the Assembly majority leader, said MADD’s absence from the debate will not stop legislation.

“We intend to move forward on legislation regardless if groups are staffing up or downsizing,” he said. “It’s clear there has been an outcry from the public to toughen our drunken driving laws and I assume this subject will be addressed sometime this session.”

Oh really?  You might be able to move forward on legislation without the help of a special interest group?  That’s big of you, Tom Nelson.

Of course, Mothers Against Drunk Driving have a noble purpose – to reduce deaths on our roads.  And I certainly agree with their goal of toughening our drunk driving laws in Wisconsin.  But let’s not be confused – they are a special interest group looking to change state law, just as any other special interest group is.  They have a paid lobbyist and report lobbying expenditures, just like every other lobbying organization.  Their goals really aren’t an issue here.

Imagine Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald saying something like, “I know times are tough over at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, but I think we’ll still be able to forge ahead with the Senate Republican tax package anyway.”  Reporters would be sleeping outside his office doors, waiting for the chance to dice him up like a pot roast.

So what causes more of an erosion in confidence in the Legislature – Dave Travis retiring early, or the Assembly Majority Leader hinting that his caucus takes its marching orders from special interests?  I recognize the media has to cover something, considering we’re in an era of peace and prosperity and all.

GAB, You’re Doing a Heck of a Job

With Christmas over, you’re probably relieved your mailbox won’t be stuffed with those insufferable Christmas letters people send you to gloat about their annual accomplishments.  People who you only know from their annual Christmas cards think it’s important to let you know that they ran three marathons,  lost 50 pounds, and their kids became the first children to gain entrance into Yale at age 8.  Basically, it’s an invitation for you to jam an ice pick into your brain.

Yet just before the end of the year, we get this Christmas card from the state Government Accountability Board, who decided it was necessary to convince you what a great year they had.  Fortunately, they sent it to a Wisconsin address – since they apparently think we all live in Minneapolis.

Now, you may think a year where the GAB fell two years behind compliance with federal law, thereby lighting $22 million of taxpayer money on fire, and doing so in secret, might not be a banner year for the GAB.  Well, according to the GAB, you would be wrong.

Among their accomplishments, they list the creation of the new “Campaign Finance Information System,” which cost taxpayers $1 million to complete.  This, of course, is an electronic campaign finance database that the legislature first ordered in 1999, and has yet to see, almost a decade later.  Finally, after years of failure, the GAB got around to “creating” this database – translation: they wrote a million dollar check to some Connecticut business to do it.  A business, incidentally, that thinks Minneapolis is in Wisconsin.  (Say what you will about the boobs at the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign – and there is plenty to say – they have provided a searchable donation database for years – FOR FREE.)

Not content to let the Biblically-prohibited self pleasure end there, the GAB lists this crowning achievment of 2008:

Voted to amend a state administrative rule to redefine the political purpose of the unregulated, so-called “issue ads” now used in Wisconsin political campaigns, as part of its statutorily mandated review of former Elections Board rules.

What an accomplishment.  In fact, it’s such a major accomplishment, it’s illegal.  It would be like telling your friends your income increased by $20,000 last year – and you only had to rob 10 wheelchair-bound old ladies to do it.

The GAB is bragging about their vote to grant themselves the sole authority to restrict free speech during campaigns.  Basically, they determined that a secretive board of unelected bureaucrats would be the perfect venue to arbitrate what constitutes a political communication during elections and what does does not.

The ability to regulate issue ads is a contentious constitutional question which with the U.S. Supreme Court and state legislatures have been grappling for decades.  And generally, these bodies err on the side of free and open political speech (one exception being the “McCain-Feingold” federal law, which has accomplished… nothing.)  Lawmakers have tried to push issue ad regulations through the legislature, but have been rebuffed each time through the legislative process.  Yet the GAB judges, yearning for the days where they got to wear the robes and rule their judicial fiefdoms, have deemed themselves superior to Wisconsin Legislature, the Supreme Court and the U.S. Constitution.  The legislation that enabled their creation merely allows them to enforce existing law – not create new laws out of whole cloth.

And to crown this year of stupendous achievment, they throw in this nugget:

Another G.A.B. goal will be accomplished very soon: Combining its 40-person staff in one office headquarters near the State Capitol so that the public, election officials, state legislators and lobbyists can access all agency services in one location.

I suppose we should give them credit for consolidating the stench in one downtown location, to spare frequent visitors to Madison the unpleasantness.

So let’s review the GAB’s year, according to their own Christmas letter: They failed to comply with federal law regarding voter lists, they unilaterally voted to restrict free speech, they spent $1 million on an Excel database that could be programmed by a hippo with a laptop, they continue to conduct their affairs in secret, and they have new office nameplates.

Come to think of it – let’s not tell them Minneapolis is in Minnesota.  Then maybe they’ll leave those of us in Wisconsin alone.

A Corrupt Analysis

With the drama regarding Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich still unfolding, corruption is now back in style with the news media.  The Blago scandal allows the usual cast of characters to run out and claim that because Blagojevich tried to auction off Barack Obama’s senate seat,  we need to enact whatever campaign finance reforms they prefer – regardless of whether they would actually be relevant to the current debacle in Illinois.

Take the recent ranting from Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, called “The Real Scandal.”  He believes the fact that some people do business in Illinois and Wisconsin vindicates his view that government should be able to micromanage political speech.  Or something.  Basically, his little story has the word “Blagojevich” in it, and that’s all it really needed for McCabe to pretend it was relevant:

Besides, the political crime ring that brought federal prosecutors to Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s doorstep has tentacles that reach into Wisconsin. Nick Hurtgen, a former top aide to Tommy Thompson, is a central figure in the Illinois drama. He was indicted for his alleged role in a kickback scheme, then a judge dropped him from the case before he was reindicted late last year. Hurtgen has remained active in Wisconsin, making sizable donations to Mark Green’s failed bid to become governor and maintaining close ties to another Republican known to covet the governor’s office, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker. But Hurtgen played both sides in Wisconsin, having helped organize a 2002 fundraiser in Chicago for Jim Doyle.

Wonderful.  But, of course, that story has nothing to do with what’s happening in Illinois right now.  In fact, I was actually spotted paying a highway toll in Illinois last week – perhaps I am also partly to blame for the Blagojevich scandal.  Jim McMahon played for both the Bears and the Packers – seems a little fishy, huh?

Then McCabe gives up on trying to pretend there’s any link between Blagojevich and Wisconsin and pivots to “The Real Scandal:”

It was perfectly legal for the investment bankers and insurance execs and real estate tycoons to spend over $430 million buying federal office holders in the 2008 election cycle alone. These interests have spent well over $2 billion to sew up Washington since 1990. What they bought was lax oversight and the freedom to roll the dice with other people’s life savings. And a bailout when it all went sour. Even as tanking companies like AIG and Freddie Mac and Ford Motor Company were fixing to ask the feds to rescue them from themselves, they were showering money on both major parties to pick up the tab for the national conventions.

Yeah, all those campaign contributions by Ford Motor Company are doing them a lot of good right now.  That automaker bailout bill is just flying through Congress.  Or not.

Furthermore, any time the WDC throws out a number, it should immediately be discounted.  Take, for example, their “report” that says big business gives twelve times as much to candidates as organized labor – a number immediately contradicted by a search of federal campaign contributions by political groups.  Actually the top 2 donors were AFSCME and the NEA.

So basically, the Blagojevich story merely serves as the host for whatever snake oil these campaign finance parasites are selling.  I may need to check the statutes, but I believe what Rod Blagojevich is accused of doing is already illegal. And not just a little illegal.  Does anyone believe that Blagojevich would have magically decided not to auction off a U.S. senate seat if there were tighter limits on campaign contributions, or if there were increased regulation of election advertising?  Of course not.  It’s like saying too many people are driving drunk, so we need more laws to regulate car ads on television.  In fact, the exact opposite is true – the more laws we pass, the more opportunities for corruption there are, as government encroaches more and more into our lives.

As a side note, USA Today last week conducted an analysis of the most “corrupt” states in the U.S.  Their list was topped by the state we all consider to be a hotbed of government corruption – North Dakota.

Basically, the newspaper just took a total number of elected officials who have been convicted of misdeeds in each state, added them up, and handed out a “corruption ranking.”  Wisconsin ranks in the middle somewhere, with 2.1 convictions per 100,000 residents.

But is this really an accurate measure of corruption?  It would seem that a state that arrests and convicts its elected officials that break the law is actually fighting corruption.  States that tolerate corruption don’t send their legislators to jail – and therefore would rank pretty low on the list (Illinois ranks 18th, for instance.)

So to the states high on this list, congratulations – you’re doing a good job of weeding out your bad eggs.  Not merely tolerating them.

Cato’s John Samples on Public Financing of Elections, Fairness Doctrine

How About Media Reform?

A couple weeks ago, I explained how a Democratic Legislature could begin to micromanage political speech to their advantage by passing a partisan version of campaign finance “reform.”  Today, the Wisconsin State Journal interviews all the usual suspects cheerleading for these new laws.

The article, which identifies some potential roadblocks to passing “reform,” includes quotes from five proponents of new laws regulating political speech (Sheridan, Erpenbach, Ellis, Heck and McCabe), and one quote from an opponent, attorney Mike Wittenwyler.  Wittenwyler’s quote mostly deals with the issue of taxpayer financing for campaigns, which is really more of an ancillary issue.  To his credit, Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker’s spokeswoman dodges the issue, saying they want to work on a bill that will “pick up support from Republicans.”  In Capitol-speak, that means they don’t really want to do anything, because they can pass whatever they want without a single damn Republican – they just want to be able to blame the GOP when nothing passes.

But given the imbalance in quotes, you’d think hardly anyone opposes campaign finance “reform.”  This isn’t a surprise, given the cheerleading newspapers all over the state constantly do in an effort to shut down political speech during election time.  If groups can’t spend money to disseminate their speech, then newspapers think they will become more relevant.

Of course newspapers, who should be the staunchest defenders of free speech, are all for shutting down speech that isn’t theirs.  Imagine the Legislature passing a bill saying the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel or the Wisconsin State Journal had to report the names of all their subscribers and sources of income to the state before they could write a political editorial or endorse a candidate.  Think they’d approve of that restriction on their free speech rights?

Of course not.  But that is exactly what they argue should be imposed on any group that doesn’t happen to be a newspaper.  Unless you have been blessed by the all-knowing editorial boards of this state, they argue you shouldn’t have the First Amendment right to criticize your government.  Instead, you’d be silenced unless you run through a mountain of red tape, reviewed by the very government you’d be trying to criticize, and subjected to the same retribution by those government officials.  There’s a reason we vote anonymously – and that anonymity should apply to political speech.

In case after case, courts have rejected the government’s attempts to micromanage the political speech of its citizens.  Most of these cases stem from the federal McCain-Feingold law, which purported to eliminate money from the political system.  In fact, it has done nothing but drive it down into these 527 groups, where it is harder to trace.  And large portions of the law have been struck down by the courts as undue restrictions on political speech.  There are terrorists who have a better won/loss record in the U.S. Supreme Court than senators Russ Feingold and John McCain.

Yet, given reporting on the issue, you’d never know how often these laws are struck down by the courts.  This article only makes mention that if a law were enacted, then those “shady” groups would file a lawsuit.  But then again, you can file a lawsuit against your coworker for having excessive nose hair – it doesn’t mention that those lawsuits actually have a solid track record of succeeding.

Just once, it would be interesting to see a newspaper report on the issue of campaign finance reform without treating it as if it were some necessary “reform.”  Imagine a story in the State Journal with a headline “Democrats Push for Campaign Speech Restrictions,” which, incidentally, is an entirely fair way of portraying the issue.  Don’t hold your breath.

Everyone Out of the Presidential Pool

One of the understated joys of sifting through state statutes is finding little, arcane laws that are on the books for some reason, but are never enforced.  In a lot of cases, you wonder how they got there in the first place – there must have been a great back story.

In any event, head on over to Chapter 6 of the Wisconsin Statutes, which governs which citizens are eligible to vote.  Behold Wis. Stat. 6.03(2):

(2) No person shall be allowed to vote in any election in which the person has made or become interested, directly or indirectly, in any bet or wager depending upon the result of the election.

As it turns out, I myself am involved in a friendly wager based on the outcome of the election.  I guess that means I can’t vote.  And anyone that takes part in any kind of “guess the percantage pool?”  You’re out, too.  Apparently, if you have a financial stake in the outcome of an election, you’re allowed to moderate a presidential debate, but not vote.

For me, this actually turns out to be good news:  as of right now, my bet ain’t lookin’ so hot.  So I can just pull out of it for fear the cops are going to haul me out of the voting booth and billy club me for trying to win my bet.

As a friend of mine noted, I should probably fear Wis. Stat 6.03(3) even more:  Being declared mentally incompetent.

In all seriousness, this statute seems a little naive.  Virtually everyone involved in a campaign is essentially placing a bet on the outcome of the election.  One of the primary reasons candidates are able to draw people out to volunteer is the promise of a job or some other perk if they win.  If a campaign contribution isn’t essentially placing a bet on the outcome of the election, what is?

And for those actually interested in betting on the election, here are the Vegas lines as of this morning:

John McCain 3-1

Barack Obama 1-5

In layman’s terms, Obama is an enormous favorite.  If you bet $100 on McCain, you stand to make $300 if he wins.  But if you want to make money betting on Obama, you have to lay $500 just to win $100.  Just make sure you don’t vote, as it would be illegal.

UPDATE: As I clicked “publish” on this post, I immediately went to Wispolitics’ website, which is advertising a free subscription if you win their “election picking” contest. Hope that prize also comes with bail money.

This is Your World on Campaign Finance Reform

For years, we have been told by the media what a great thing campaign finance reform will be.  We’ll all be better informed when those dishonest, nasty attack ads are off the air, and local media has a monopoly on campaign speech.  Candidate messages to the voters can’t be trusted, but newspapers can.

Then, we see articles like this one from the Shepherd Express “newspaper” in Milwaukee.  It claims to be their “State Senate Update,” yet merely regurgitates every Senate Democratic Campaign Committee talking point fed to them.  I would be shocked if nearly every word of the article wasn’t written by the SDCC coordinator.  To wit:

Wasserman (Democrat) is cautiously favored for two reasons, even though this district has had a slight Republican bias. Wasserman, an obstetrician, is definitely outworking Darling (Republican). He has knocked on more than 23,000 doors over the past year and a half. In addition, many moderate Republicans, especially women, are disappointed with Darling, who went from being a moderate Republican when she was first elected in 1990 to a traditional conservative Republican.

Oh really?  Wasserman is “definitely outworking” Darling?  Is it mere coincidence that this “23,000 doors” number comes from Wasserman’s first campaign ad?  And where are these moderate Republican women disappointed with Darling?  This is merely a Democratic fantasy – the district isn’t “slightly” Republican, it is solidly so – George W. Bush, J.B. Van Hollen and Mark Green all received more than 56%.  (And yes, I realize this is essentially a GOP talking point, but I don’t purport to be a newspaper.)

Then there’s this gem, from the Sheila Harsdorf (Republican)/Allison Page (Democrat) race from the Northwest corner of the state:

But while her rural district is becoming more Democratic, Harsdorf has been moving to the right as a more party-line Republican. She has, for example, supported policies that would provide tax incentives for out-of-state trash companies to dump their garbage in Wisconsin landfills. At the same time, though, Harsdorf is a very likable and decent person.

Never mind that Harsdorf was the Senate author of a bipartisan bill that increased the tipping fee on business that dumped trash in Wisconsin – in response to Minnesota businesses bringing all their trash to our state.  (In the Northwest part of the state, you’d be better off defending child molesters than trash haulers.)  So why would the Shepherd Express in Milwaukee be so willing to peddle a demonstrably false accusation from a race all the way across the state?  Because they’ve essentially just become a newsletter for Senate Democrats.

Now, I could go through the entire article and point out how ridiculous its assertions are – anyone believing Wasserman is “favored,” or that Page has a “very good chance” for an upset, or that Republican Dan Kapanke’s seat in La Crosse is an “excellent chance for a Democratic pickup” would be laughed out of Madison by anyone knowing anything about those races.

The point is, this is why newspapers are so insistent on campaign finance reform, which would shut down campaign speech by candidates and their supporters.  By limiting spending and adversiting during political season, newspapers become more relevant, as they then carry the most influential public message about campaigns.  And in the Shepherd Express’ case, they can then print whatever ridiculous nonsense they are fed them by Senate Democrats without any competition.

In the early days of American democracy, much of the campaign messages were carried by partisan newspapers, which printed scandalous, unfounded rumors about candidates that they opposed.  By giving rags like the Shepherd Express a monopoly on political speech, we’d be heading right back to that type of partisan yellow journalism.

The GAB’s Slimy Underbelly

Nearly a decade ago, British provocateur David Icke took a trip to Canada. As he swiped his passport through the scanner at the Vancouver airport, the words “WATCH FOR” appeared on the screen. Security quickly whisked him away to a holding cell.

Icke, a former English football player and BBC sports correspondent, had his career take a remarkable turn in 1991, when he declared himself to be the Son of God on a British talk show. Later, he wrote that he believed the Earth was secretly controlled by an extraterrestrial race of reptiles which, if they consume enough human blood, will enable them to take a human form. In his 1999 book, “The Biggest Secret: The Book that Will Change the World,” Icke exposed George H.W. Bush and Hillary Clinton as members of this reptilian ruling class.

While they appeared to some to be nothing more than the rantings of a madman, Icke’s theories were immediately denounced as anti-Semitic. While he never accused Jews of any plot to rule the world, some believed his “lizard race” theory was too similar to many other anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. As a result, Icke was flagged by Canadian customs authorities, who had been pressured by anti-discrimination groups to keep him out of the country altogether.

In the airport holding cell, a man with rubber gloves rifled through Icke’s belongings to find anti-Semitic artifacts. Two immigrations officers berated him, trying to get him to admit he was an anti-Semite. “The families in positions of great financial power obsessively interbreed with one another,” he said. “But I’m not talking about one earth race, Jewish or non-Jewish. I’m talking about a genetic network that operates through all races, this bloodline being a fusion between human and reptilian genes,” he protested.

After four hours in the cell, the Canadian authorities concluded that when Icke said lizards, he really meant lizards. They released him, and he was free to go on his way. He began giving speeches to Canadian crowds, which were often cut short by protestors hurling pies at him.

Certainly, it’s a long way from lizard conspiracy theories and Canadian immigration agents to Wisconsin in 2008. Yet the state Government Accountability Board (GAB) is attempting to unilaterally impose Canadian-style restrictions on free speech, without any action by a single elected official. In essence, they’re going to give themselves the ability to decide whether or not people are talking about reptiles.

The unelected GAB, made up of former judges, was instituted by the Wisconsin Legislature in 2007, in order to more aggressively enforce existing elections laws. Instead, the Board has deigned it necessary to make new laws which have never been considered by the Legislature. (Also known as those who represent the people of Wisconsin.)

For instance, the GAB is trying to make itself the sole group that decides what can and can’t be said during an election. They are looking into promulgating rules that would allow them to regulate the timing and content of political speech in Wisconsin by determining what is and what is not “express advocacy.” Is a television ad urging people to call their legislators to support tax relief political speech? Only the GAB will know. Is a newspaper ad asking voters to support candidates who are pro-life “express advocacy?” If the GAB decides so, it could be yanked from the papers. As a result, many citizens who normally band together to criticize legislators or their policies will be intimidated into silence during campaign season.

With the power of free speech vested in such a small group of “elites,” who knows what they will decide is appropriate? Is an ad discussing Barack Obama’s ties to Jeremiah Wright’s church legitimate, or is it a secret racist code? Is an ad criticizing Sarah Palin’s lack of experience accurate, or is it an unfair attack on working mothers? Only the GAB will be able to decide. And if the future holds anything that is certain, it is that they won’t be able to fairly determine when a lizard is just a lizard.

-September 22, 2008

For more on the travails of David Icke, see “Them: Adventures with Extremists,” by Jon Ronson.

The GAB’s Slimy Underbelly

Nearly a decade ago, British provocateur David Icke took a trip to Canada. As he swiped his passport through the scanner at the Vancouver airport, the words “WATCH FOR” appeared on the screen. Security quickly whisked him away to a holding cell.

Icke, a former English football player and BBC sports correspondent, had his career take a remarkable turn in 1991, when he declared himself to be the Son of God on a British talk show. Later, he wrote that he believed the Earth was secretly controlled by an extraterrestrial race of reptiles which, if they consume enough human blood, will enable them to take a human form. In his 1999 book, “The Biggest Secret: The Book that Will Change the World,” Icke exposed George H.W. Bush and Hillary Clinton as members of this reptilian ruling class.

While they appeared to some to be nothing more than the rantings of a madman, Icke’s theories were immediately denounced as anti-Semitic. While he never accused Jews of any plot to rule the world, some believed his “lizard race” theory was too similar to many other anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. As a result, Icke was flagged by Canadian customs authorities, who had been pressured by anti-discrimination groups to keep him out of the country altogether.

In the airport holding cell, a man with rubber gloves rifled through Icke’s belongings to find anti-Semitic artifacts. Two immigrations officers berated him, trying to get him to admit he was an anti-Semite. “The families in positions of great financial power obsessively interbreed with one another,” he said. “But I’m not talking about one earth race, Jewish or non-Jewish. I’m talking about a genetic network that operates through all races, this bloodline being a fusion between human and reptilian genes,” he protested.

After four hours in the cell, the Canadian authorities concluded that when Icke said lizards, he really meant lizards. They released him, and he was free to go on his way. He began giving speeches to Canadian crowds, which were often cut short by protestors hurling pies at him.

Certainly, it’s a long way from lizard conspiracy theories and Canadian immigration agents to Wisconsin in 2008. Yet the state Government Accountability Board (GAB) is attempting to unilaterally impose Canadian-style restrictions on free speech, without any action by a single elected official. In essence, they’re going to give themselves the ability to decide whether or not people are talking about reptiles.

The unelected GAB, made up of former judges, was instituted by the Wisconsin Legislature in 2007, in order to more aggressively enforce existing elections laws. Instead, the Board has deigned it necessary to make new laws which have never been considered by the Legislature. (Also known as those who represent the people of Wisconsin.)

For instance, the GAB is trying to make itself the sole group that decides what can and can’t be said during an election. They are looking into promulgating rules that would allow them to regulate the timing and content of political speech in Wisconsin by determining what is and what is not “express advocacy.” Is a television ad urging people to call their legislators to support tax relief political speech? Only the GAB will know. Is a newspaper ad asking voters to support candidates who are pro-life “express advocacy?” If the GAB decides so, it could be yanked from the papers. As a result, many citizens who normally band together to criticize legislators or their policies will be intimidated into silence during campaign season.

With the power of free speech vested in such a small group of “elites,” who knows what they will decide is appropriate? Is an ad discussing Barack Obama’s ties to Jeremiah Wright’s church legitimate, or is it a secret racist code? Is an ad criticizing Sarah Palin’s lack of experience accurate, or is it an unfair attack on working mothers? Only the GAB will be able to decide. And if the future holds anything that is certain, it is that they won’t be able to fairly determine when a lizard is just a lizard.

-September 22, 2008

For more on the travails of David Icke, see \”Them: Adventures with Extremists,\” by Jon Ronson.

Speech Supression, China-Style

NBC\’s Richard Engel, often vilified by the Right as a left wing cheap shot artist, actually did some outstanding reporting on China\’s effort to suppress demonstrations during the Olympics. In the story, Engel tells the story of a woman whose house was being bulldozed to make way for a road. She applied for a permit to demonstrate, then was arrested and imprisoned for 30 days, or until the Olympics were over.

View the video here.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, the state Government Accountability Board continues to assert its authority to regulate the content and timing of political speech during campaign season. Certainly, they are speech suppression on different scales – but in both instances, they restrict the common citizen\’s ability to criticize the actions of their government.  Neither case should be acceptable in a free society.

Begging For Corruption

Today, I happened to catch this press release by State Representative Steve Hilgenberg of Dodgeville.  In it, he bemoans the \”fact\” that people have lost faith in the Supreme Court, due to the influence of special interests:

MADISON – State Representative Steve Hilgenberg (D-Dodgeville) today renewed his call to pass the Impartial Judiciary Bill after the state Supreme Court ruled on a tax case heavily influenced by special interest groups.

\”This Menasha case clearly shows that we have to confront the influence of big money in the elections and affairs of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices,\” said Rep. Hilgenberg. \”The public\’s confidence in the court will continue to wane as long as special interest groups play such a large part in electing Justices.\”

Of course, Steve Hilgenberg has no idea what role special interests played in the outcome – he merely knows he doesn\’t like how the Court decided.  And his press release, instead of describing how people are losing faith in the State Supreme Court, is actually trying hard to erode public faith in the court.  Hilgenberg is actually on his knees begging the public to lose faith in the Court, in order to garner support for using tax money to finance campaigns.

Of course, public financing of campaigns will do nothing to curtail the outside spending on races that Hilgenberg bemoans.  As long as justices are elected, third parties will have the freedom to publicly support or oppose candidates.  Who finances the actual campaigns of candidates is really a minor point – in fact, contributions to judicial candidates are currently public information.  It\’s the independent expenditures that good government types loathe – yet these independent groups have the freedom to speak out on these races.

What we\’re left with are a bunch of legislators who are desperately trying to convince everyone that the Court is corrupt, without any evidence of such.  We should keep that in mind when Hilgenberg\’s teacher union money comes rolling in during the upcoming election.

Debating Finance Reform

It appears WisconsinEye has posted the video of my debate with Senator Jon Erpenbach,  Senator Mike Ellis and Gail Shea regarding campaign finance reform.  Prepare to be scintillated as the audience skewers me.

Part One

Part Two

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