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.