This is just too good.
For years, “good government” groups have been kicking and screaming about independent entities running their own television ads during campaign season. (Commonly referred to as “free speech.”) Groups like the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign (a registered lobbying organization) have unironically argued that this gives lobbying organizations too much influence, and have pushed for a change in the law to ban such ads.
A letter WDC Executive Director Mike McCabe sent to the state Government Accountability Board urging them to regulate these ads sums it up best:
Five special interest groups spent close to $8 million in the last two state Supreme Court races on what most of the groups insist on calling “issue advocacy.” To voters across the state, it meant truckloads of money were spent on loads of TV ads smearing the candidates. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel called the campaigning “tawdry” and “despicable.” A State Bar Association judicial campaign integrity committee called the advertising “deliberately misleading.”
Sounds pretty bad.
But here’s the thing – when groups spend all this money on these TV ads, it has the effect of educating the public about the candidates. UW-Madison political scientist Ken Goldstein has conducted studies that show voters are more knowledgeable about the candidates when these ads run, and voter turnout is higher in these races, as more people are aware a campaign is actually going on. So clearly, banning these ads makes voters both less informed, and less likely to vote.
Spending in Supreme Court races has become the main battleground against these kinds of ads, especially since conservative judges have routinely been winning. This, despite the fact that the most misleading and egregious ad in the last Supreme Court campaign was run by one of the candidates himself, eventual winner Mike Gableman. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group, had routinely spent millions of dollars to help promote candidates they believed represented their interests – but in the current election for the Supreme Court, they have sat idly by, keeping their advertising to themselves.
And, of course, you can guess who the first to complain about WMC’s lack of spending is:
There’s a state Supreme Court election in a few weeks, and many people don’t even know it’s happening.
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s Mike McCabe says its partly due to a lack of advertising.
“This has been so under the radar that my fear is that people don’t know much about this race, don’t know hardly anything about the challenger.”
McCabe says he’s happy the contest focuses on the issues, but that doesn’t help if no one shows up to vote.
“It’s not a good thing to have a statewide election and have nobody notice.”
So here’s the guy who’s spent his whole career complaining about the toxicity of money in politics complaining about the lack of money in politics. Would he now be happier if WMC was spending boatloads of money educating voters around the state? Apparently, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign knows exactly how much information voters need to make informed choices about their candidates.
As it stands, the Government Accountability Board is moving forward with its plan to shut down these third-party ads. In doing so, as Mike McCabe has apparently figured out, it will be assuring us fewer voters and a less educated electorate. That’s our state government – protecting us from an educated public discussion of our candidates.