For the last couple of days, I’ve been selling out arenas nationwide on the Pro-Corruption World Tour. Last night’s stop included the Humanities building on the UW-Madison campus, where Common Cause held a debate on the merits of campaign finance reform. I debated Senators Mike Ellis and Jon Erpenbach, along with poor Gail Shea, who wasn’t able to get a word in edgewise with all of our hot air taking up the time.
Ellis and Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said they hope to pass legislation that would limit the amount of money interest groups are allowed to spend on political campaigns. The bill would require disclosure by advertising groups on how much they are spending and where the funds come from.
Heck said legislation on campaign finance reform could easily pass, except legislative leaders are “philosophically opposed” to the idea and would not bring the issue to light.
But according to panelist Christian Schneider, a fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, there is strong ground for opposition to Ellis and Erpenbach’s campaign finance reform because of the right to freedom of expression.
“If the First Amendment is meant for anything, it is to protect unpopular political opinions,” Schneider said. “It is condescending to voters to say, ‘You’re not smart enough to see through negative television advertisements.’”
Schneider added negative advertisements can bring harsh truths to light and often increase voter turnout by making voters more interested and invested in campaign issues.
However, Erpenbach and Ellis were quick to defend their campaign finance reform legislation from Schneider’s attacks.
“I do believe firmly in the First Amendment,” Erpenbach said. “I think everybody has the right to free speech — but you can’t go into a crowded theater and yell ‘fire.’”
Erpenbach added huge contributions collected by special interest groups can mute individual opposition voices.
But Ken Mayer, UW political science professor, questioned Erpenbach’s idea of campaign finance reform as a shield to defend the individual opposition voices.
“I’m a little uncomfortable with this idea of using government power to redistribute funds,” Mayer said. “There is no reason to punish those with more money.”
And despite my disagreements with virtually everyone in the room on this issue (except Mayer, apparently,) everyone was extremely welcoming and pleasant. In fact, they were so interested in what I had to say, they asked me every question during the crowd Q&A period.
From what I understand, video of the event will be available on WisconsinEye at some point. I’ll post it when it goes up so you can see me spar with Ellis and Erpenbach.
I’ll be on the Joy Cardin show on Wisconsin Public Radio Monday morning, April 28th at 7 AM (ouch) to talk a little campaign finance reform. I’ll be on for a full hour. If I sound older, it’s because it will be the day after my birthday.
Filed under: Courts — Christian Schneider @ 2:15 pm
Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court held arguments on the so-called “Millionaire’s Amendment” section of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. The provision in question limits how much a candidate can spend on their own campaign, presumably to prevent them from being corrupted by… their own money.
During oral arguments, Justice Scalia ridiculed the notion that laws can somehow “level the playing field” for campaigns. Scalia sarcastically suggested we should next require that the more eloquent candidate talk with pebbles in his mouth, in order to guarantee more egalitarian elections.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because I made a very similar point in a column early this year. To wit:
For instance, we need to eliminate Barack Obama’s good looks from the equation. From now on, Obama should be forced to wear a ridiculous, bushy fake mustache when he gives speeches. We’ll see if women voters are as enthusiastic about his message of hope when he looks like Borat. (Although, admittedly, he might earn my vote if he did so.)
Next, we need to equalize the market for celebrity endorsements. When Chuck Norris endorses Mike Huckabee, every other candidate in the field will be assigned a taxpayer-financed washed-up action star to serve as their campaign spokesman. Jean-Claude Van Damme, we need your cell phone number – looks like John Edwards is cratering!
Under my plan, candidates will be barred from playing instruments while on the campaign trail. Everyone remembers Bill Clinton’s thrust in popularity after he played the saxophone on late night television. Mike Huckabee recently showed up on Jay Leno playing the bass guitar. (Less memorable was Steve Forbes’ performance of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” on the triangle.) Whether a candidate can play a few notes on an instrument doesn’t tell me what I need to know about their position on CAFTA.
Finally, we need to get rid of all these troublesome catchwords that seem to be getting people so excited. Obama should be limited to two uses of the word “hope” per speech. Huckabee should only be allowed to refer to God as “the man who lives in the clouds,” and will be limited to using the following joke, written by my four year-old daughter:
Q: “What did the fish say to the seaweed?”
A: “Fish can’t talk!”
All of these important reforms will give real people a chance to run for office. Real ugly, dull, uninformed people.
So since I don’t expect anyone else to toot my horn, I will take this opportunity to do it myself. Or, at least before Wisconsin amends its Constitution to ban tooting your own horn.
Filed under: Politics — Christian Schneider @ 1:58 pm
Here’s a look at the pro-Obama ad the service unions are running in Pennsylvania:
Please tell me you happened to catch the bald guy with the big truck complaining that it costs him $75 to fill up his tank. The fact that he’s driving a gas guzzler is supposed to make me sympathetic? Listen, man – maybe it wouldn’t cost you $75 to fill up your tank if you had a smaller car.
Of course, as an advocate of free speech in campaigns, I believe SEIU has every right to air this ad, and it doesn’t bother me a bit. But it doesn’t mean others can’t point out the lunacy in telling people that somehow Barack Obama is going to hold down gas prices. Exactly how is that going to happen? By taxing oil companies more? There actually isn’t a better way on Earth to raise gas prices than to raise taxes on the companies that produce oil. Anyway, details.
Filed under: Health Care — Christian Schneider @ 6:35 am
A much-discussed graphic has surfaced on the internet, which graphically demonstrates the leading causes of death in the United States. It has come to be known as the “death spiral” chart. Apparently, it was originally developed by National Geographic magazine a few years ago to give people a visual representation of what they were most likely to die from.
Here it is:
The first thing I noticed was the “total odds of dying, any cause: 1 in 1.” Man, I need a better bookie.
Strangely, they also list “Air/Space Accident” on the list. How many deaths are attributable to “Space?” Does that count the aliens that come down to Earth to off us?
What I found most interesting about the graph is that the leading cause of death, heart disease, is also the most preventable. Study after study shows that eating right and exercise drops the risk of heart disease exponentially. Yet the threat of death doesn’t appear to be enough to scare people into living healthier lifestyles. That may be the true benefit of this graphic.
A toll-free hotline is now available for citizens to report fraud, waste, and mismanagement in state government. Call 1-877-FRAUD-17 or 1-877-372-8317.
“Yes, hello? I have some waste in state government to report. I think it’s a waste of my tax dollars to have someone sitting around all day answering the phones, pretending that the waste people call in and identify is going to make any difference in state government at all. In fact, isn’t that why we provide every state legislator with their own 800 number? To take calls from concerned constituents?”
“Oh, and as long as I have you on the phone, I think the state health plan also should not cover the cost of toupees.”
With the Supreme Court race in our rear view mirror, the usual hysterics are taking place with regard to how we select our justices. According to Jay Heck from Common Cause, “This was the most nasty, negative, demoralizing statewide election in Wisconsin history. . . . This is about as low as you can go.”
Consider me among those not “demoralized.”
The election of conservative Judge Mike Gableman has set the media on fire. Much of the reaction resembles the state being hit by a hurricane, not the state electing a conservative Supreme Court justice. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s Mike McCabe, who must have a heck of a cell phone plan with all the calls he gets from state newspapers, said “”Wisconsin is in the midst of a hostile takeover of its court system.”
This article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel goes on to quote SEVEN individuals who think we should completely overhaul our system of electing judges. Not content with just that pitch for campaign finance reform, the paper today also ran an editorial describing the Supreme Court race, titled “Tawdry and Despicable.”
Naturally, had Butler won, we wouldn’t be hearing any of these calls for blowing up the system – everything from eliminating free speech to publicly funding elections to doing away with elections altogether. Everything would be golden until next year, when the balance of the Court would be up again.
But there are some interesting facts that the Journal Sentinel seems to leave out. Take, for instance, the results of the last four Wisconsin Supreme Court races:
2000: Conservative woman defeats liberal man (Sykes v. Butler)
2003: Conservative woman defeats liberal man (Roggensack v. Brunner)
2007: Conservative woman defeats liberal woman (Ziegler v. Clifford)
2008: Conservative man defeats liberal man (Gableman v. Butler)
Could it be possible that Wisconsin voters simply prefer conservative justices? Is there even a remote chance that the people who voted wanted their justices to adhere to a strict reading of state law?
In fact, it could be that all those “scary” ads had little to do with the race. The Sykes and Roggensack races were low-profile elections, yet the conservatives won in each case (Sykes by a nearly 2 to 1 margin).
Consider also the 2006 elections, when Republican J.B. Van Hollen won the race for Wisconsin Attorney General amid a Democratic tidal wave. How could this be? Could it be possible that voters are actually sophisticated enough to know what they want from specific elected offices? If voters knew what they were doing, that would ruin the whole fairy tale about how they are unduly influenced by campaign advertising, and how they’re not qualified to pick judges.
Put simply, you want a conservative to keep bad people from doing things to you, but you want a liberal when you want to do things to bad people. (Oil companies, pharmaceutical companies, Dick Cheney)
Yet the state media can’t comprehend the fact that in electing Gableman, they were only doing what they have done for the past decade – electing a conservative. It doesn’t matter how much people spend or how much press coverage there is of the race.
Had Gableman lost the election, conservatives certainly would have been bummed out. But how many would be calling for an overhaul of the electoral system? Answer: none. When Democrats and liberals are elected, the Right lives to fight another day. Fortunately, they have enough class to refrain from insulting the will of the people.
As everyone knows by now, Burnett County judge Mike Gabelman beat incumbent Justice Louis Butler in a race for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court last night. Butler should have known he was in trouble when he got a call from Paula Abdul telling him he “looked gorgeous.”
Interestingly, the people who seem to be most stunned about Gableman’s victory seem to be Gableman’s own supporters. While people who backed Gableman certainly agreed with his stated judicial philosophy, he never demonstrated a grasp of the issues most important to the Court. This was due, in part to the race’s misleading focus on criminal justice issues. It is also due to the fact that Gableman often eschewed actual debate with Butler in favor of calling him a “judicial activist.” In the candidates’ final debate, Gableman answered virtually every question with the words “judicial activism,” rather than explaining any of his own positive philosophy. (He crossed the line the next day at the dry cleaners – when asked if he wanted extra starch, he accused the dry cleaner of legislating from the ironing board.)
Yet despite any misgivings supporters had about Gabelman’s electability or the campaign he ran, the bottom line is that he won. So it’s hard to argue tactics – clearly his campaign knew what they were doing. But it doesn’t make it any less shocking that what was essentially a second-tier candidate ended up on the Supreme Court in a year that was supposed to be dominated by liberals.
So now the blueprint for winning a Supreme Court seat is pretty much set. Criminal justice, criminal justice, criminal justice. The best advice I can give Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson for her 2009 race is to get a picture of her beating a homeless crack addict with a billy club, ASAP.
As for Butler, he actually seems like a good guy. In debates he was composed, knowledgable, and personable. Yet for all of his charm, he never seemed to grasp the problems voters might have with a justice
that disregarded the plain meaning of the law as often as he did. In his final TV ad, he bragged about ruling in favor of widows of men killed in the Miller Park construction accident. He stood up for children “hurt by unsafe products.” (Presumably the ridiculous lead paint case.)
While it’s wonderful that these widows and children were able to get some kind of relief, it still leaves one question: what was the law? Being a justice isn’t about handing out Christmas presents to the aggrieved. It’s about interpreting the statues as written by the Legislature. Certainly, I would be appreciative if Louis Butler could get me in a hot tub with Natalie Portman. But I’m fairly sure there’s no law authorizing such a meeting. (Mental note to self: begin lobbying Legislature for such a law.)
Voters likely saw that Butler’s presence created a Court majority run wild. In fact, his mere presence on the Court was an affront to the voters. After Butler lost to Justice Diane Sykes by a 2-to-1 margin initially, Governor Doyle ignored the will of the electorate and appointed Butler to the bench anyway. This was the judicial equivalent of mooning the voters.
Butler is smart and capable, and his punishment will be to move to a high-class law firm and make five times as much money as he made on the Supreme Court. So while it may hurt his feelings that he lost to Fred Flintstone now, he’ll do just fine. (In the final debate, you could see on Butler’s face that he couldn’t believe they got this guy to run against him.)
But now that he’s on the Court, Gableman will have to prove that he was worthy of all the support he received. He has to display an intelligence and grasp of the issues that seemed to be lacking in his campaign. In short, he has to bloom where the voters planted him.