How about that tongue twister? It is referring to the recent posting by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign that school choice supporters spent $9.8 millions dollars to support school choice in Wisconsin. This money came in the form of issue advertising from 3rd party groups as well as in the form of direct campaign contributions to legislators who support school choice.
You will excuse me if I am not blown away by this revelation. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign (which impressively serves its mission for open government with a useful campaign contribution database) is against the role of money in politics and has every right to say so. But this latest report leaves me with a few pressing questions.
First, did legislators switch their positions on school choice because of campaign contributions? If the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign is correct that “persistent, generous campaign contributions and millions of dollars more in outside election spending by mostly out-of-state interests are keys to the program’s survival and growth,” then it’s a small step to conclude that school choice would not be supported by any legislator if not for these shadowy outstate interests.
Most important, what about the 25,000 students using the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program? Were their families duped by money too? Or is it possible that polling from WPRI and others is correct and parents actually like school choice?
I am not naïve enough to think that money plays no role in politics, nor do I think the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign is wrong to point out the political activity of school choice advocates in Wisconsin. But it is crucial that the other factors explaining the prominence of school choice in Wisconsin are not ignored. As I have said over and over again, the school choice programs in Wisconsin are not perfect, but they exist and are supported by many for reasons that have nothing to do with politics or campaign contributions.
On Sunday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s “Politifact” series granted Milwaukee-area radio talk show host (and WI Magazine editor) Charlie Sykes a “Pants on Fire” rating for his claim that Joanne Kloppenburg had outspent incumbent Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser by a scale of 3-to-1.
In determining whether Sykes’ claim was true, Politifact relied on numbers from the Brennan Center for Justice, which estimated Prosser supporters outspent Kloppenburg supporters on television ads, $2.2 million to $1.36 million. In making this claim, they list the Greater Wisconsin Committee as the sole third party entity spending on behalf of Kloppenburg.
Merely addressing television ads, however, is a different issue than what it appears Sykes was talking about. According to Politifact, Sykes said pro-Kloppenburg forces “put in as much money as they will ever be able to… They will never again, in Wisconsin, be able to mobilize a 3-to-1 money advantage.”
Granted, television ads tend to be a third party’s greatest expense. But Sykes was talking about total spending – does the Journal Sentinel know, for instance, how much AFSCME spent on direct mail? Does it know how much money SEIU spent on paid volunteers to get out the vote on election day? Does the paper know how much was spent on radio ads? I don’t. And neither does the newspaper. “Spending” means more than simply buying TV ads (and non-TV spending is often more effective.)
Furthermore, the Brennan Center is a liberal organization (boasting Alec Baldwin and Arianna Huffington on its Board of Advisors), funded by billionaire liberal activist George Soros, which has a vested interest in making it look as if Prosser supporters outspent Kloppenburg’s backers. (If an arm of the Koch brothers put out a study on campaign financing, would the paper just take it at face value?)
In offering their “estimate,” they provide no citations and no methodology. The only way Politifact tests to see if their number is accurate is to mention that the Brennan Center figure showed up in other newspapers – including (surprise!) the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. So they’re basically saying, “we have no way of knowing whether this number is right, but one of our reporters used it, so it must be.”
In fact, any time an organization estimates independent expenditures, they are doing just that – estimating. In Wisconsin, the liberal Wisconsin Democracy Campaign often puts out their hysterical, screeching press releases about how much campaign spending has gone up, yet they rely almost entirely on other press estimates. (Even with all their hyperventilating, we pick a governor for about the same amount that Prince Fielder is going to be making per year next season – not a bad deal for the state’s highest office.)
For television ads purchased by candidates or political action committees, those expenditures are reported publicly. Anyone can walk into a TV station and look at its public file. But for “issue ads,” the numbers are strictly between the group running the ad and the TV station. Just like Home Depot has no obligation to tell the public when and where it is buying ads, neither do independents. So it’s often in their best interest, when they talk to the media, to lowball the amount they are spending on TV – to downplay their influence. (Some like to make it seem like they’re spending more than they are, to give themselves credibility.)
So, in the end, is Sykes’ ratio right? Who knows? Yet one thing’s for sure – the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel doesn’t.
I’ve discussed campaign finance reform a lot on this blog – probably 90% more than anyone really wants to hear. So I was pleased when President Obama broached the subject during his trip to Madison on Tuesday of this week. The President waded into the Citizens United waters when he told the 26,500 onlookers:
And so you can persuade them maybe to give the Republicans the keys back if they’re not hearing the other side of the argument. So a lot of them are fired up. And thanks to a recent Supreme Court decision, they are being helped along this year, as I said, by special interest groups that are allowed to spend unlimited amounts of money on attack ads. They don’t even have to disclose who’s behind the ads. You’ve all seen the ads. Every one of these groups is run by Republican operatives. Every single one of them — even though they’re posing as nonprofit groups with names like Americans for Prosperity, or the Committee for Truth in Politics, or Americans for Apple Pie. I made that last one up.
“Every one of these groups is run by Republican operatives.”
Then someone should tell these Republican operatives to stop running ads saying Scott Walker is okay with disabled people being raped. (In fact, that ad is being run by the Greater Wisconsin Commitee, funded by noted Republican operative Governor Jim Doyle.)
Surely, it’s shady Republicans who are running ads falsely alleging Sean Duffy wants to “gamble away” Social Security by “privatizing” it.
Of course, both sides have groups running negative ads on their behalf. But for the President to flatly state that only Republicans do it is insulting. I’ll just wait here for the state’s editorial boards to criticize him for his bitter, partisan rant.
As a father, I’ve figured out that nothing – nothing – is more adorable than when little kids use big words that they don’t understand.
In fact, when I was a little kid, my parents used to take me to their favorite seafood restaurant. Sometimes, my mother would get a buttered lobster. I would stare at the red lobster shell, enthralled by the claws and eyes. Finally, in the loudest voice I could muster, I blurted out:
“Mom, are you going to eat the testicles?”
Of course, I meant tentacles. The restaurant stopped and looked at our table. My mother covered her face in horror. I don’t remember us ever going back.
As it turns out, in the Wisconsin Republican gubernatorial primary, we’re seeing one of the candidates misuse a word – and it’s adorable. Seems that Mark Neumann is claiming to be a “conservative,” without really knowing what the word means. And you just want to pat him on the head and pinch his little cheeks.
While crashing the Democratic convention last week, Neumann, a former congressman who has repeatedly claimed to be the “only conservative” in the race for governor, was asked a question regarding what he thought about the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision. The decision, handed down several months ago, affirmed the right of third party organizations to run advertisements during campaigns. The ruling struck down a portion of the McCain/Feingold campaign finance law that banned issue advertisements close to election day. In effect, the Court limited the government’s ability to regulate the timing and content of political speech.
But when asked about Citizens United, Mark Neumann bristled. Here’s a video of his response:
“I think they should shut down every outside source of information in this campaign except the candidates themselves…”
“Whether that’s not constitutional so we obviously can’t do that. But if Mark Neumann got to have what he wished, that’s what would happen, sir.”
Neumann would actually support governmental censorship of political speech – if only that pesky Constitution didn’t get in the way. He would trust the government to determine what is and isn’t a political ad, and allow it to ban whatever it believes to be objectionable.
There isn’t a “conservative” alive that would trust the federal government with that much power to abridge the First Amendment. At least none with a fundamental understanding of what conservatism means.
What would the effect of Neumann’s ban on political speech be? Studies have shown that in races where third parties buy advertising, voters know more about the candidates, and vote in greater numbers. Apparently Neumann would like less informed voters who don’t bother to vote as often.
Strict campaign finance regulations also heavily benefit incumbents. Elected officials already in office build themselves huge advantages using taxpayer resources. Often times, challengers need help from third party groups to bring issues to the forefront that aid them in overcoming this natural incumbent advantage. Shutting down political speech insulates incumbents from much of the criticism they’ve earned during their tenure.
Of course, if individual citizens are prohibited from engaging in political speech, it always favors candidates with boatloads of personal money who are willing to spend it. Candidates exactly like Mark Neumann, who appears to be spending millions of his own dollars without getting much bang for his buck.
By condemning free campaign speech, Neumann is casting his lot with liberal boobs like Ed Garvey, who actually claimed the Citizens United decision was worse than Pearl Harbor. (Do not adjust your computer – he actually said it.) Mike McCabe of the left wing Wisconsin Democracy Campaign claimed the decision was worse than Dred Scott. And if he had heard of any other Supreme Court cases, he’d totally think it was as bad as them, too. (Incidentally, the Citizens United decision clearly hasn’t meant the end of democracy, as liberals predicted. For dozens more posts about the folly of campaign finance reform, go here.)
I had a friend in college who was terrible with directions. He thought what ever way his car was pointed was north. It seems like Neumann is working off the same plan – “I’m a conservative, so whatever I say must be conservative, too.” Only it’s not.
So while it does make you want to mess up his hair and buy him an orange push-up, Neumann’s claim that he’s the “conservative” in the race for governor has now lost all meaning. Republicans now don’t have to worry about whether there’s any validity to his claim, as Neumann clearly himself doesn’t know what the term means.
[Note: WPRI does not endorse candidates - it's up to you to decide who you support. But we will discuss candidates when they pitch goofball ideas.]
While Americans across the country tightened their belts, companies, organizations and other entities spent an average of 5% more on Washington lobbyists last year. The total amount spent on federal lobbying reached a record $3.5 billion in 2009, according to the watchdog group Center for Responsive Politics.
What’s implicit, although not expressly stated in the article, is that much of the lobbying is due to the vast expansion of government during the recession. The “stimulus” plan was a gold mine for lobbyists – directing government money toward their pet projects. While Wisconsin was in the process of losing 170,000 private sector jobs last year, the number of government jobs actually grew.
This follows a slow motion phenomenon that has been growing for decades. As government passes more and more laws and regulations and takes over more control of our lives, it makes perfect sense for special interests to lobby up – either to get their slice of the government goods that are being handed out or to protect their members from the growing tentacles of the law.
Want to get rid of the lobbyists? It’s simple – we don’t need campaign finance “reform.” We need to get the government out of our lives.
Today, Professor of Nothing Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign bemoans how the University of Wisconsin System is losing its “Progressive” tradition. Having already demonstrated his lack of understanding of campaigns, law, and the U.S. Constitution, McCabe is now determined to embarrass himself in another venue – higher education. One would think that McCabe would lay low after being completely obliterated in public by Wisconsin Supreme Court justice David Prosser, but he seems hell bent on further discrediting himself.
This is actually the first time we’ve heard from McCabe since he declared the U.S. Supreme Court’s campaign finance decision (in Citizens United vs. FEC) to be as bad as the famous Dred Scott decision, which codified segregation in the U.S. for the next 100 years. Certainly, blacks who were attacked with fire hoses and police dogs during desegregation share a kinship with McCabe, since having to watch a few extra campaign commercials seems to be just as oppressive. (It is likely that McCabe’s legal expertise led him to invoke Dred Scott merely because it was a case that he had heard of.)
But now, McCabe is chafing because a professor at the UW (Ken Goldstein) has dared to do the unthinkable – he actually has been conducting research that conflicts with the storyline the WDC has been trying to sell to its contributors. Goldstein has demonstrated that in cases where negative advertising occurs, voters not only know more about the candidates, they actually show up at the polls in greater numbers. Naturally, McCabe sees this as a threat, since it would mean he’s for less informed voters that vote more infrequently. (Which, as it turns out, he is.)
Rather than defending his own indefensible positions, McCabe lashes out the only way he knows how – by saying the UW is “as owned as our politicians.” He says:
But instead of challenging the status quo and engineering new reforms and working with public officials to make those reforms a reality, most of the political scientists on campus are missing in action. Some of the most prominent among them are apologists for the way things are and throw their weight around on behalf of the very forces that have corrupted our politics and sullied Wisconsin’s once-proud reputation.
The UW System has 6,032 professors. ONE PROFESSOR conducts a study that conflicts with McCabe’s fairy tale, and suddenly the whole system is corrupt? (Goldstein is likely thankful people think he single-handedly has enough influence to undo 150 years of Progressive tradition at the UW.) Perhaps all the other faculty members should run their rigorous scientific studies by scholar Mike McCabe to determine whether they’re corrupt or not. (Of course, how “corrupt” you are is 100% proportional to how much you stray from the “Progressive” tradition of the UW – i.e., how conservative you are. If the UW keeps cranking out liberal studies, then there’s nothing to see, keep moving. That’s academic rigor for which the UW should strive.)
Of course, nobody knows research like McCabe, whose bogus “reports” would be laughed out of any community college in America. Maybe next, McCabe can poke his nose into the UW Medical School to start telling them which of their medical research methods are acceptable in the “Progressive” tradition.
Since it’s always fun to take a trip down memory lane, let’s take a look at some of McCabe’s greatest hits:
He complains about how organizations that don’t disclose their funding sources attempt to change state law, yet he doesn’t disclose his own donors, and travels around the state in favor of things like single payer health care.
He complains about the negativity in campaign advertising, yet openly dreams about poisoning Wisconsin Supreme Court justices.
This is just a small sampling of the WDC’s incomprehensible recent history. I’m sure UW professors, who mostly have Ph.Ds, enjoy being lectured on research ethics by a failed former Assembly candidate who will take any position that fits his storyline at any given time.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case which essentially granted free speech rights during campaign season to groups of people (corporations, labor unions), in addition to individuals. Incidentally, polls show that the U.S. public agrees with the Court. (To which a liberal friend of mine responded “just shows how dumb we are.” Apparently, she hasn’t connected that type of smarminess to the Democrats’ current dive in popularity.)
Of course, no debate on campaign finance in Wisconsin is complete without checking in with the state’s most vocal moonbat, former Gubernatorial candidate Ed Garvey. He offers these measured comments:
You appreciate the enormous wrecking ball that blasted through our world yesterday. This is, quite frankly, the worst day in American history. Pearl Harbor was awful but we were a democracy willing to lay our lives on the line to preserve that democracy. Not so after this catastrophe. The court has destroyed democracy in our land. This group of five have handed the once proud system to AIG, Goldman Sachs, U.S. Bank, and the other robber barons. Election 2010 may be the last real election.
There you have it. Determining that the government shouldn’t be regulating political speech is worse than Pearl Harbor. And 40% of the public in Wisconsin actually voted for this guy when he ran for Governor.
For those still not convinced that the ruling in Citizens United is the right one, read this excellent article in Reason Magazine. It concludes:
In the end, the right to speak does not mean the power to control the political process. It merely means the right to convey views that citizens are free to reject—which, if they distrust corporate power, is exactly what they are likely to do.
Under this ruling, corporations will be allowed to speak about politics, just as they may speak about their products. In both realms, though, the effort is wasted unless they offer something their audience wants. The marketplace of ideas is not so different from the marketplace of goods.
Corporations have the freedom to communicate what they want. But the people still have the ultimate right: the right to say no.
I have to admit, in the three years I’ve been posting on this blog about campaign finance issues, it seems like I’ve been yelling into a well. Being an opponent of “campaign finance reform” is often a lonely place – I feel like an attractive girl at a Star Trek convention.
It makes sense that campaign finance reform isn’t exactly the type of issue that moves people – mostly, because the rules for political speech are so arcane and confusing, it’s too difficult to untangle it all.
Thus, it is gratifying to see the U.S. Supreme Court strike a blow for freedom today by removing many of the limits on political speech that have accrued over decades – most recently, under the McCain-Feingold law as enacted in 2002. (If you really feel like blaming George W. Bush for something, blame him for signing that abomination into law. Ironically, it was his own Supreme Court appointees that struck down this law he signed.)
The ruling eviscerates much of the limits on so-called “express advocacy,” where citizens band together and pay for ads in support or in opposition to political candidates. The more campaign activity we have, the more citizens will be informed about candidates and campaigns – leading to more vigorous debate over our elected officials.
This recent Supreme Court decision also certainly kills a bill working its way through the Wisconsin Legislature that would have placed even more strict limits on political speech. In 2008, I showed up to debate Senate bill authors Mike Ellis and Jon Erpenbach, who clearly didn’t even know what their own bill did, and how it related to past Supreme Court opinions. The event was sponsored by Common Cause Wisconsin, and it was fairly clear I was the only one in the room who considered campaign spending to be free speech. You can watch it here.)
Rather than lay out all the arguments we’ve made over the years, feel free to peruse the “Campaign Finance Reform” section over there in the right column. So-called campaign finance reform advocates will kick and scream over what the Court did today, citing “corruption,” but now U.S. Citizens will me more free to speak their minds come election time. For years, Congress has been doing to free speech what they’re trying to now do to health care. It’s just that nobody noticed.
Today, WPRI released a report by Mike Nichols (with research assistance by me) that delves into the origin of public financing for campaigns in Wisconsin.
While the intent of using taxpayer dollars to run campaigns was noble – supporters thought it would lead to more competitive elections and reduced special interest influence – the actual effect has been just the opposite. In fact, often times politicians (77% of those that take the grant are Democrats) turn right around and funnel the public money to campaign purposes that are outside the intent of the law:
(State Representative Spencer) Black, for example, received $4,155 from the public fund on Sept. 30, 1996. This is the same year he gave a total of $4,775 in cash or in-kind contributions to other politicians or committees, including $1,200 to the Dane County Conservation Alliance-a special interest committee registered with the state.
On Sept. 30, 2004, state Rep. Mark Pocan accepted $5,574 from the public fund. According to his campaign reports, on that very same day he made a $1,000 contribution to the Unity Fund-the Democratic Party of Wisconsin campaign account that was used, at least in part that year, to support Democratic candidates at the national level.
Hintz received his most recent public funding, about $6,000, on Sept. 27, 2008. In the month that followed, he gave $1,000 to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.
In September of 2002, Bob Jauch accepted 11,932 from the WECF. In November, he made a $5,000 contribution to the State Senate Democratic Committee. He won with 62.1% of the vote.
In September of 2006, Jauch accepted a $2,425 contribution from WECF. In November of 2006, he made a $1,000 contribution to the SSDC, and won with 62.3% of the vote.
On September 25, 2002, Russ Decker accepted a WECF grant of $11,932. During the same election, Decker spent $6,300 for a poll – for a race he won with 68% of the vote. In December, Decker transferred $1,000 to the SSDC.
In September of 2006, Joe Parisi accepted $5,263 from the WECF. In the same election cycle, he donated $1,000 to the Democratic Party of WI, en route to winning with 75.6% of the vote.
Furthermore, public financing hasn’t done anything to improve the “competitiveness” of state campaigns.
Of the 47 winners that took the grant, 38 (81%) were incumbents. Of the 9 winners that were not incumbents, 6 of them beat incumbents (Hines, Freese, Skindrud, Loeffelholz, Weber, and Kreibich) and 3 ran in open seats.
The average vote for the 47 winners who accepted a WECF grant: 63.4%
The average vote for the 126 losers who accepted a WECF grant: 39.3%
Of the 126 losing candidates, only 11 (8.7%) came within 5% of the winner. Only 24 (19%) came within 10% of the winner.
More from the article:
Politics in Wisconsin is, at the very least, not a game for outsiders. Spencer Black hasn’t received less than 87% of a vote since 1992 and now has more than $146,000 in his campaign account.
In 2002, Republican Steve Nass accepted $7,013 in public funding and went on to beat Leroy Watson 87% to 13%. In 2006, the Whitewater-area representative took $5,963 and beat a self-described “naturist,” Scott Woods, 66% to 34%.
If the fund helps anyone, it seems, it is incumbents, the legislators who have the power to make the laws and amend them. Or get rid of them, but don’t.
One byproduct of heavy favorites receiving the taxpayer funded grant is that they often use the grant to build their campaign accounts to levels that make them unbeatable. More on Spencer Black:
Spencer Black, the longtime Democratic representative from Madison, has repeatedly taken the public subsidy while building up big surpluses in his campaign account. First elected to the Assembly in 1984, Black has been reelected a dozen times. Up until 2000 (when opponents just gave up and stopped running against him), he applied for the tax dollars almost every time he ran.
Records from the first few elections have been lost by the state, but he was given more than $18,000 in taxpayer dollars in 1992, 1994 and 1996 alone, according to the Government Accountability Board (GAB). Those were years in which Black built his campaign fund up from a surplus of $39,000 in 1992 to more than $100,000 by 1997.
So the same fund that was supposed to make campaigns more competitive actually strengthens incumbents to the point where they can’t be beaten.
Finally, it’s important to point out that while the dollar amounts may not be large, there is a significant band of people urging the program be expanded. The article mentions Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign saying the program is failing because it’s not big enough. So this should serve as a lesson to those who think even more taxpayer money should be used for campaigns – something the public clearly opposes.
In July, having completed the Herculean task of driving the state deeper into deficit, Wisconsin lawmakers sought respite in their home districts for the summer. Now they have returned, to take up much weightier issues, most notably figuring out who gets the run the Department of Natural Resources.
Currently, the DNR secretary is picked by the Governor to oversee the state’s environmental policy. This wasn’t always the case, as the DNR Board of Supervisors used to pick the secretary (George Meyer was the last board-appointed leader, until Governor Tommy Thompson signed a law giving himself the authority to pick.)
Now, with Democrats in full control of all branches of state government, environmentalists are applying a full court press to have the law changed back to board-controlled appointment power. They believe that if the board picks the secretary, somehow they will be less “political” than if the governor picks. Because, as we all know, the Sierra Club (who would essentially then control the board) is above politics.
Today, several environmental groups (Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, Wisconsin Conservation Congress) issued a press release which proves the “public” supports granting the DNR board appointment authority. The list contains the names of 270 various conservation groups across the state who are supposedly on board with the law change (and as we know, the Legislature generally does whatever the Wisconsin Muzzleloaders Association asks.)
Of course, some would consider these groups attempting to influence state legislation to be “special interest groups.” But not campaign finance watchdog Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign – who has already come out in favor of the legislation. You see, the the WDC, “special interests” are merely “groups that push conservative legislation.” Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is a special interest – the Sierra Club is “the public.”
McCabe has spent years railing against groups who conceal their campaign donors and attempt to influence state legislation. Yet here we have a list of 270 such groups attempting to gain control of the DNR secretary, and you’ll hear deafening silence from the so-called “good government” groups. (It has been pointed out time and again on this blog that McCabe’s group itself is a special interest that conceals its donors and attempts to push state legislation – such as a single payer health program.)
So I anxiously await the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign press release decrying this special interest influence, and calling on the Wisconsin Sharptailed Grouse Society to open their books for public scrutiny. Holding my breath.
It just goes to show that this bill has nothing to do with saving the air, water, and fish, and has everything to do with which humans get to order us around. There’s a long way between appointment authority and cleaner water.