June 16, 2007
Out front and invisible
By Bill Kraus
Remember the derisive old saw, “I’m from the DNR, and I’m here to help you?”
An updated version is for the candidates, and it goes “We’re from an election reform organization (Common Cause in my case), and we’re here to help you.”
And we are.
The side effect of the reforms we are promoting would be to give politicians more control of their own destinies.
What SB 77 would do is tell officeholders and candidates who their enemies really are.
What SB 12 would do is level the economic playing field.
There is, so far, too high of an ideological price for SB 12 because it requires public financing and spending limits, but SB 77 is not so encumbered.
If the programs we are trying to get past a group of invincible (they think) incumbents are enacted they will protect candidates from the onslaughts of rich zealots of various persuasions, and, if they will take the next, harder step, will even remove the onerous dialing for dollars out of their lives.
This idea is vigorously opposed by the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) representatives whose donors fear retribution, exposure or both. These are not chimerical worries. We have a recent history of elected officials who are more interested in getting revenge than they should be. And business people who are public about their political preferences can expect to lose some customers who are more zealous about their beliefs than they are enamored about the products or services those businesses are selling. Nobody ever said that public participation, public service was bean bag. It’s a price democracy extracts. You can’t—-shouldn’t be allowed to?--participate surreptitiously.
The people at the Right To Life (RTL) organization are also uncomfortable about revealing who pays their bills. This would indicate that they also must get at least some of their money from people who are reluctant to let anyone know about these contributions. This is more puzzling. Right to Life proponents are pretty much from the in-your-face school. Their fearlessness, like that of the National Rifle Association, is a major political weapon. It’s hard—-even incongruous—-to be on the barricades and invisible at the same time.
WMC and RTL are indisputably politically important to many Republicans. But this does not mean that the items on the top of their agendas are the same as Republican incumbents and/or candidates. Certainly their obsession with keeping their funding sources secret is not on anyone else’s short list.
A money driven political system inevitably distorts the democratic idea. If the money can also operate covertly, the candidates under attack are denied specific targets against whom they can mount a counter-attack.
Rabbit-punching is considered unfair in fighting. But not in politics?
What we want is an election system that is fair and where candidates, not special interest organizations, are the major players in their campaigns.
Now there’s a radical idea.
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