Mike McCabe: MIA
By Deb Jordahl
For most conservatives, good government is an oxymoron. This has more to do with a belief that there’s no problem a government program can’t make worse than cynicism about our elected leaders. Yet recent events in Madison have many wondering, where is the outrage from Wisconsin’s good government guru, Mike McCabe?
McCabe, of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign makes his living advocating for clean and open government. He claims that reforming Wisconsin’s campaign finance law is the key to achieving that goal and he recently accused lawmakers of deliberately stalling budget negotiations in order to beef up their campaign accounts with special interest money.
“I think the most powerful thing that we could do is ban campaign fundraising during the budget process because I guarantee you, if they couldn’t raise campaign money right now, they’d have a budget done,” said McCabe.
Chris Schneider reveals the obvious flaw in McCabe’s theory.
If you take the good government groups at their word and accept that legislators are trading laws for cash, how hard would it be to circumvent this prohibition? It would only take the following utterance: “Thanks, Senator for that piece of special interest legislation. I will now go light up my cigar with a hundred dollar bill and program a reminder into my Blackberry to give you a wheelbarrow of cash as soon as the budget is passed.”
If lawmakers want to limit their ability to raise money during the budget process in the name of good government, that’s fine with me, so long as they don’t use it to prevent prospective challengers from raising funds and provide yet another advantage for incumbent lawmakers.
But isn’t there more to clean and open government than limiting the influence of political money? Shouldn’t we demand that our elected leaders refrain from unethical behavior and the abuse of power? Shouldn’t we encourage ordinary citizens to participate in the political process rather than trying to limit their ability to petition their leaders?
One would think McCabe would embrace principles like these, especially given his highly publicized outrage over revelations that state employees were doing political work on state time with state resources.
Here is what McCabe said last year after a jury delivered guilty verdicts against State Representative Scott Jensen:
"When politicians abuse power they need to be held accountable for that. … It is important that a message gets sent to the current bosses at the Capitol. … This story is not about a few bad apples, it is about a system that is rotten to the core."
Well, the last several weeks have been full of teaching moments for students of good government. But where was Professor McCabe:
- When State Senators Judy Robson and Jon Erpenbach were mixing campaign funds with corporate money from special interest groups to fund a political poll?
- When Governor Jim Doyle and his top aides were signing high school students up for a state program that does not yet exist?
- When Governor Doyle’s office was pressuring the UW Office of Financial Aids to recruit wait-listed students to participate in a press conference?
- When Governor Doyle was adding millions of dollars in new spending projects to pressure state legislators into voting for his budget?
- When Chvala protégée Senator Russ Decker offered State Representative Sheryl Albers funding for a bridge in her district in exchange for her vote on the state budget --- an illegal act known as logrolling?
- When Hundreds of citizen activists and state employees held counter rallies at the State Capitol to petition action on the state budget?
McCabe was missing in action, and when he did weigh in it wasn’t in the name of good government.
McCabe passed on condemning State Senators for using corporate money to test the political viability of their health care plan. Instead he traveled the state to promote the Democrats’ $15 billion Healthy Wisconsin plan while using his Big Money Blog to accuse special interest groups of buying opposition to the plan through contributions they made last year.
What’s more, while McCabe claimed to be agitated with lawmakers over the state of Wisconsin’s budget, he scoffed at media coverage of historic counter rallies involving hundreds of citizens and government employees from across the state. McCabe reduced participants on both sides to tools of special interests, and was much more impressed by a dozen students protesting the war in the UW Library mall. Now there’s a once a lifetime event for you!
McCabe’s actions in recent weeks beg the question: Is Mike McCabe truly committed to the pursuit of good government, or is he merely committed to the pursuit of press coverage that pleases his own special interest donors?
-October 22, 2007