A longtime political observer sees the significance in the central Wisconsin primary that many insiders would prefer to ignore.
April 1, 2003: The day the money flopped
Editors’ note: It is not our usual practice at FightingBob.com to re-publish articles that originally ran elsewhere, but the following editorial Bill Kraus penned for Wisopinion.com bears repeating. It also seems to get some of its inspiration from an article we published a few weeks ago, and covers a topic we have revisited often since then.
That topic is the Democratic primary in Wisconsin’s 24th Senate District, where Assembly Rep. Julie Lassa trounced Alex Paul and his high-priced consultants last Tuesday. Congressman Dave Obey called upon Paul to fire his advisors and predicted that voters would reject their tactics by voting against Paul. FightingBob.com echoed Obey’s sentiments and asked everyone in the state to heed his warning. Obey was prophetic, and Kraus in turn predicts a lasting significance in the primary results.
We all knew that the voters had the ultimate weapon in the battle for campaign finance reform.
All they had to do was turn out and vote against political campaigns characterized by over-spending and sleazy, attack advertising.
But until and unless they did that the route to reform had to travel the pothole-littered legislative route and get past the beneficiaries of the present system: incumbents and the well-endowed of any political persuasion.
On April 1, 2003, money lost. The delicious irony is that the architect of the losing campaign for the Democratic nomination in the state Senate Democratic primary race in the 24th District was Bill Christofferson. Christofferson orchestrated Herb Kohl's 1988 Senate campaign, which obliterated the stigma that too much money had always suffered from in Wisconsin. Thank you, Bill Christofferson. And thanks as well to Todd Rongstad, who added an offensive dose of sleaze to the proceedings. (See Christofferson's recent defense, written in reply to an opinion piece at FightingBob.com).
Almost every campaign since 1988 has been driven by money and marketing (mostly TV marketing). Money didn't always win, but it always terrified.
So politics in Wisconsin became more like marketing and less like campaigning, and those who had or who could raise large amounts of money became the real power brokers.Until April 1, 2003. On that day the voters rejected a perfectly respectable candidate whose handlers spent an obscene amount of money on advertising and who, presumably, was also the beneficiary of sleazy advertising from unidentified sources as well.The handlers spent more on this three-county primary race than both candidates for the Supreme Court spent on their statewide races. The cost per vote has been calculated at something over $38 a pop by one political operative. Excessive even in an era when gubernatorial candidates are spending $13 a vote. And the people said, in effect if not in fact, "Enough, already!"
It was perhaps unfortunate that the campaign was conducted away from the state's media centers. But the politicos were watching, and they now know that money is not necessarily the magic bullet, that negative campaigns can misfire or even backfire. That money can be an albatross.
Thousands of well-intentioned, hard-working people have been working to reform what has become a corrupt and corrupting system.
On April 1, 2003, the voters of the 24th Senate District in central Wisconsin showed them how to do it.
Mark the day.
April 8, 2003
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Bill Kraus lives in Madison, is the former press secretary for Governor Lee Dreyfus, and serves on the board of Common Cause of Wisconsin.