February 28, 2010
Playing it where it lays
By Bill Kraus
All the wailing by almost all the campaign reformers over the Supreme Court’s decision to remove all the bans on campaign spending by almost anyone has obscured a few realities, an objective of campaign finance reform, and a significant opportunity.
Instead of starting the endless and probably fruitless process of overturning the decision by amending the Constitution (does anyone remember the many-year failed attempt to add the relatively harmless ERA to the Constitution sone decades ago?), I suggest a reality check, a rededication to the real objective of all those campaign finance reform ideas that have mostly gone nowhere, and an aggressive exploitation of the very large opportunity that was part and parcel of the FEC v. Citizens United decision.
The reality is that the possibility that this court and probably its successors are going to welcome any kind of regulation of this kind of free speech is dim to non-existent.
This court expanded the freedom of speech to places it’s doubtful the founding fathers ever imagined. But to think that even justices who are more cognizant of the collateral damage that might ensue from this decision will turn against free speech run amok is to believe in fantasies.
A more reasonable idea is to restate the objectives of campaign finance reform. As much as we’d like to get the money and the hired guns out of campaigns, what we really should be focused on is something that is more achievable.
What we now have is an election system where the candidates have to abide by contribution limits and also must disclose the names of people who gave them money. All the non-candidate organizations that get to bash or support those candidates can spend as much as they want without revealing where they get their money. Millionaires who spend their own money are also unrestricted and, incongruously, if Herb Kohl is an example, kind of admired for doing so.
The free-market types will probably opt for taking the limits off for the candidates themselves to level the playing field inasmuch as it’s going to be pretty tough to convince a court that for over a century has said corporations are people and more recently that money is speech, that all the players have to abide by the candidates’ rules. This is a chance the reformers have to take.
My own priority would be to stay out of that thicket and go full speed ahead in the one direction that the Supreme Court has not only permitted but encouraged: disclosure.
No candidate can match a large corporation (or a tribe or a well-heeled union), but all candidates can and should be able to identify and counter-attack whoever is spending money against them.
What we need is a bill that names the funders of any and all campaign activity not just those who contribute to the candidates.
What we also need is an up-front disclosure that matches the candidates’, “My name is John Doe and I approve of this message,” with something like, “The following message was authorized and paid for by XYZ corporation.”
These are the cards that have been dealt. Let’s play them. There isn’t going to be a re-deal.
February 16, 2010
A place for us
By Bill Kraus
Public broadcasting has been the only statewide medium in Wisconsin since the Journal Communications Company quit distributing and reporting beyond mostly Milwaukee.
The Madison papers never ranged much beyond Dane and adjacent counties. All the other local papers everywhere in Wisconsin are, of course, local.
Radio and TV are now, always have been, always will be regional, parochial media. They are in the business of delivering viewers to advertisers, and all of their advertisers are local.
So all that’s left is the two Wisconsin Public Broadcasting networks. A thin reed. It appears that the people in charge there regard what I see as an opportunity more like a problem. An expensive one.
The programming on public TV is revealing. In a given week a viewer can get a half hour every weekday of the British Broadcasting Corporation, an hour a day of national news from the Lehrer Report, and one-half hour a week of Wisconsin news from Frederica Freyberg.
This is Wisconsin Public Broadcasting?
Obviously the system has nowhere near enough money to put on a Wisconsin version of say the Lehrer Report every weekday.
Or does it?
What if WPB set itself up as sort of an Associated Press for all the private broadcasters in the state? The network could set aside the necessary airtime--a half hour or an hour every weekday--accept feeds from any and every TV station (commercial as well as public) and put together a daily report of the top stories in and about Wisconsin?
The technology makes this possible.
Would the feeding stations feed? Why not? They would gain in prestige and reach and still be able to deliver their daily dose of local news, sports, and weather for their local advertisers.
The big winner would be the state, the public as it were.
Ideas, candidates, events would have a statewide stage again.
It’s not the same as getting the Journal company to cover and distribute everywhere again, but it does bring TV’s version of journalism to a statewide audience. Common ground can be plowed again. Common causes could be surfaced and tested.
Getting a daily look at our diversity could be the route to bringing the things that unite us into focus. What we have lost sight of is the ways and reasons we are interdependent.
The Milwaukee papers did this for us once. Public TV can do it again.
February 13, 2010
By John Smart
Ridiculous Republican attacks on President Obama for using a TelePrompTer are coming home to bite them. Poor "Silly Sarah" was even reduced to writing notes on the palm of her hand, so she wouldn't get caught using the modern method of delivering a speech without losing eye-contact with her audience of tea-baggers.
I wonder how far the GOP is willing to take this refutation of the wonders of technology? Are we going to hear Mitch McConnell say that his speeches were not composed on a computer, but rather were written in script on the back of a shovel, using a piece of charcoal? (Somebody else used that method in Kentucky back when Senator McConnell was a mere scrap of a lad!) I suppose that John Boehner scribbles his on note cards while basking in his tanning bed.
It might have some good results. Eventually, Rush Limbaugh may renounce that "newfangled" network radio and go back to using a cat's whisker and a crystal set - or a megaphone.
It must really gall those people that Barack Obama is so obviously intelligent and speaks so well. "Well, he's just reading it off a screen!" Yeah, right.
February 7, 2010
By Bill Kraus
Bipartisanship is something that occurs between peers, among peer groups.
The chief executive, whether the president or governor, has no peer or peer group. The executive proposes, the legislature disposes. It is in the process of disposition that multiple voices are heard and compromise is both possible and necessary.
To accuse Obama of not being bi-partisan is misguided.
If we aren’t getting enough input from all sectors, more compromise from any sectors, if we are gridlocked, we should be looking to the legislative leaders not the executive branch.
It’s a nice bit of showmanship for Obama to talk to the Congressional Republicans. But if it’s action or movement that’s wanted, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are the ones who should be talking to the Congressional Republicans in general and the Republican leaders specifically. All the time.
At a less partisan time in our state and our history, this was common, normal behavior.
What legislative leaders know, or should know, is that when a solution is proposed, the problem is forgotten, and the solution becomes the problem.
It is the legislative leaders’ job to keep the problem in the forefront and search for a solution that is not a problem. The late, great Bill Kellett referred to this as "keeping your eye on the squirrel."
The legislative leaders in Washington clearly are not doing that.
Until and unless they start doing their jobs, the majority is going to impose its will and ride roughshod, to the extent that’s possible, over the minority, and the minority is going to oppose everything in hopes that all that is proposed will fail and they will become the majority again.
Legislative governance has become a search for advantage not resolution, and assuredly not progress.
And the winner is? The status quo in most cases.
This in a country that is crying out for change, for action, for thinking anew.
The president, the governors have bully pulpits.
The legislative leaders have the power to give the country what it wants and needs.