April 28, 2007
If it quacks like a duck
By Bill Kraus
The Wisconsin State Journal and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel printed what might be described as dueling editorials on Friday, April 27.
They were both commenting on the case the U.S. Supreme Court has under review which deals with advertisements that Wisconsin Right To Life bought to call the public’s (the voters’?) attention to the fact that Senators Kohl and Feingold were about to vote (or not) on President Bush’s judicial nominees. Since the ads ran close to the November date when Senator Feingold’s name was on the ballot and since they could be considered critical of the senator, they fell within the prohibitions in the election law which carries his name.
The State Journal likes the election law as long as it doesn’t abridge the freedom of political speech by anyone, including any organization.
The Journal Sentinel’s position is that the thinly veiled purpose of the ads was to let people know that Senator Feingold had done something that the sponsoring organization didn’t like and implied voters should not support his re-election for this reason.
They believe the ads had less to do with free speech than with electioneering.
The question that their editorial raised seems to me to be less arguable. That question is whether the rules that candidates are subject to during campaigns should apply as well to organizations that support or oppose those candidates.
The amount of money candidates can accept and from whom is limited by the election laws. In addition, the candidates must reveal the names and occupations of everyone who donates to their campaigns. The amount of money that organizations can accept and from whom, however, is not subject to the election laws. The result is that these organizations do not have to report the names of the people or organizations who made the donations that paid for the ads that support or oppose candidacies.
The only arguable question then is whether the ads were indeed election ads. If they were, then the rules that apply to candidates should apply to others who are participating in the contest as well.
While the Journal Sentinel editorial featured and stressed this point, and the State Journal did not, it is hard to believe that the Journal Sentinel is cavalier about free speech or the State Journal about fairness.
The real issue then is transparency. If a person or an organization is going to participate in a political campaign, that person or organization should have to play by the same rules the politicians play by. Politicians’ donors are disclosed. Everyone’s should be.
The question of whether someone or some organization is indeed playing is arguable. Playing by the same rules should not be.
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