For years, “good government” groups have been kicking and screaming about independent entities running their own television ads during campaign season. (Commonly referred to as “free speech.”) Groups like the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign (a registered lobbying organization) have unironically argued that this gives lobbying organizations too much influence, and have pushed for a change in the law to ban such ads.
A letter WDC Executive Director Mike McCabe sent to the state Government Accountability Board urging them to regulate these ads sums it up best:
Five special interest groups spent close to $8 million in the last two state Supreme Court races on what most of the groups insist on calling “issue advocacy.” To voters across the state, it meant truckloads of money were spent on loads of TV ads smearing the candidates. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel called the campaigning “tawdry” and “despicable.” A State Bar Association judicial campaign integrity committee called the advertising “deliberately misleading.”
Sounds pretty bad.
But here’s the thing – when groups spend all this money on these TV ads, it has the effect of educating the public about the candidates. UW-Madison political scientist Ken Goldstein has conducted studies that show voters are more knowledgeable about the candidates when these ads run, and voter turnout is higher in these races, as more people are aware a campaign is actually going on. So clearly, banning these ads makes voters both less informed, and less likely to vote.
Spending in Supreme Court races has become the main battleground against these kinds of ads, especially since conservative judges have routinely been winning. This, despite the fact that the most misleading and egregious ad in the last Supreme Court campaign was run by one of the candidates himself, eventual winner Mike Gableman. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group, had routinely spent millions of dollars to help promote candidates they believed represented their interests – but in the current election for the Supreme Court, they have sat idly by, keeping their advertising to themselves.
There’s a state Supreme Court election in a few weeks, and many people don’t even know it’s happening.
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s Mike McCabe says its partly due to a lack of advertising.
“This has been so under the radar that my fear is that people don’t know much about this race, don’t know hardly anything about the challenger.”
McCabe says he’s happy the contest focuses on the issues, but that doesn’t help if no one shows up to vote.
“It’s not a good thing to have a statewide election and have nobody notice.”
So here’s the guy who’s spent his whole career complaining about the toxicity of money in politics complaining about the lack of money in politics. Would he now be happier if WMC was spending boatloads of money educating voters around the state? Apparently, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign knows exactly how much information voters need to make informed choices about their candidates.
As it stands, the Government Accountability Board is moving forward with its plan to shut down these third-party ads. In doing so, as Mike McCabe has apparently figured out, it will be assuring us fewer voters and a less educated electorate. That’s our state government – protecting us from an educated public discussion of our candidates.
Filed under: Bureaucracy — Christian Schneider @ 10:36 am
Okay, so this probably doesn’t need much background, but here it is:
The Wisconsin Department of Tourism pays $50,000 to a company to rip off Bacardi’s “Live Like You Mean It” ad campaign for use as the state’s motto. This after the state’s universally ignored “originality rules” campaign, which came on the heels of the state creating a note for note remake of a Supergrass song to serve as the state’s jingle in 2005. (As rappers would say, the state was “bitin’ their rhymes.”)
A friend of mine in the capitol took a break from playing online poker long enough to send me over to the Wisconsin Tourism Federation website, which contained perhaps the most apt logo imaginable given the recent troubles at the Department of Tourism:
UPDATE: I was always fond of this proposed Milwaukee slogan:
Filed under: Economics — Christian Schneider @ 10:08 am
Let me be clear – I love my Dad. I owe everything I have to him. But if I could hire someone to block him from sending me ten junk e-mails a day, I would. God bless his heart, but if I get one more dopey chain e-mail from my dad, I am going to strangle him.
That being said, I have to give him credit for this one today. It’s an interview between Milton Friedman and Phil Donahue from 1979, in which the Nobel Prize winning economist destroys the dopey lefty talk show host.
As All American Burger manager Brad Hamilton tells Spicoli with regard to the “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” sign in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High:”
“Learn it. Know it. Live it.”
UPDATE: This one is even better, although it clocks in at a half hour. It’s shocking to see someone communicate a message of limited government and freedom in such a clear and concise manner. Something no modern conservative politician seems to be able to do.
Last year, I wrote a research report explaining how the minimum markup law on gasoline forced consumers to pay too much at the pump. A month ago, the law was declared unconstitutional by a federal court. Now, we’re seeing gas prices fall, to the benefits of consumers.
These gains may be short lived, however, as Governor Doyle’s new budget imposes a previously-rejected “oil franchise fee” on gasoline. There is no serious person that believes this tax won’t be passed on to consumers at the pump.
Filed under: Budget — Christian Schneider @ 3:21 pm
During the debate over the various budget “stimulus” bills, we’ve been trying to point out the problem with using $4.5 billion in federal money to balance the state’s budget; namely, it creates a giant hole in the following budget that state taxpayers may be asked to fill.
The Rockerfeller Institute has taken a look at state budgets nationwide, and has attempted to calculate the gaps that will be found in future state budgets when the federal stimulus spigot is turned off. In their rosiest growth scenario, state budgets across the U.S. will face cuts of 4%, or $70 billion – but if growth continues to stagger, they estimate the cuts at 6% and $100 billion, respectively.
Keep in mind – in Governor Doyle’s 2009-11 proposed budget, he still expects (perhaps while wearing rose-colored glasses) tax receipts to increase by 2.6% in 2009-10. And that small increase has forced him to declare this recession to be a catastrophe. Imagine what would happen if the budget actually decreased by between 4% and 6%? According to this report, that’s where state budgets are headed nationally when federal funds aren’t there to prop up the unrealistic spending created in these next two years.
The federal stimulus package will provide fiscal relief to state governments exceeding $150 billion over the 2008-09, 2009-10, and 2010-11 state fiscal years.
Although the aid is massive, it is temporary. In the best of worlds, as the stimulus aid wanes, the economic recovery will take hold and state tax revenue will rise sharply, as it has after past recessions.
But even under optimistic assumptions, the revenue recovery will not be sharp enough or soon enough to avoid the need for significant budget cuts or tax increases. If the tax revenue falloff and recovery aremuch like that of the 1990 fiscal crisis, as the stimulus aid goes away in 2011-12, states could face a fiscal gap of 4 percent of general expenditures, roughly comparable to annual gaps of $70 billion.
Under alternative assumptions that lead to pre-stimulus budget gaps of nearly $370 billion over the next 2.5 years-not a worst-case scenario-states could face a 2011-12 fiscal gap of more than 6 percent of state general expenditures, or more than $100 billion. Under any likely scenario, states will face significant budget problems when the new federal aid runs out.
It goes without saying that people in America think their politicians lie. In fact, it’s a concept ingrained in the very fabric of our culture. Books, plays and songs have been written as encomiums to political dishonesty – it’s almost as central a concept to our government as Congress itself.
Yet when politicians fib, it’s usually in broad terms. They say things like, “I’m going to lower your taxes,” or “I think it would be a bad idea to let criminals out of prison,” or “my, what a pretty baby!” But it Wisconsin, we have an odd example of a politician being dishonest with the people that elected him on a very specific issue.
On February 23, 2009, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel exposed the fact that Governor Jim Doyle is swiping the $10 fee Wisconsin has been collecting since 2008 to implement the federal “Real ID” act, in order to “balance” the state budget. So here we have a fee being collected for one purpose, and being used for another – to the tune of $12.5 million.
Bruce Redenz at Badger Blogger decided to do what everyone should do when a story of misuse of public funds occurs – he contacted his state senator, Jon Erpenbach. Erpenbach, apparently thinking he was talking to someone without an internet connection, sent this reply via mail:
When the State of Wisconsin collects money through taxes or fees, all of the money that is collected is put into General Purpose Revenue (GPR.) Money is then used in budgeting and dispersed to different programs from the GPR.
The ten dollar driver’s license renewal fee that you have mentioned is one of those that is put into GPR. Since the money goes to the GPR we are unable to pinpoint a specific program that the money supports, except to say that it supports many programs that we as a society have decided to support.
This is 100% false.
As everyone who has anything to do with state government knows, the Real ID fee attached to driver’s licenses is deposited in the transporation fund, which is a segregated account. Segregated accounts exist specifically because they don’t intermingle funds with the General Fund. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau pointed this out clearly in their 2007-09 budget summary, when the fee was passed (see page 4 of the .pdf document.) The fee is categorized as “SEG-REV,” which indicates it is revenue to the transportation fund, which, of course, never touches GPR. The fee was collected for a certain purpose and was never intended to be used for “many programs that we as a society have decided to support.”
There are really only two explanations here. Either Jon Erpenbach has no clue how state funds are collected and dispersed, or he’s purposely using false information to mislead his constituents. Neither explanation inspires confidence in a state senator who is trying furiously to sell us a $15 billion state government health insurance takeover. Apparently, his standard for facts is whatever he can think of at the time.
On the one hand, stealing funds from the transportation fund is commonplace – it’s part of what has driven the state into a $5.9 billion deficit. People could argue whether state money is in one account or the other is mere semantics. But this is Erpenbach’s whole argument in support of the transfer – and it’s based on a mistruth. Erpenbach wasn’t just asked this question by a reporter on the spot – he had time to research it and think about how he wanted to portray this issue to his constitutents. And he still got it dead wrong.
Imagine the constituent service people get who don’t actually know anything about state government.
Filed under: Legislation — Christian Schneider @ 1:31 pm
A state legislator’s office sent this to me this afternoon. It’s a constitutent letter meant to convince legislators that the state should implement domestic partner benefits for state employees. (I changed the names to protect the innocent:)
Subject: Please Support Domestic Partnership Protections
Representative Prince Fielder
PO Box 6666
Madison, WI 53707
Dear Representative Fielder,
Use this space to share your story with your senator. Look at the the Talking Points and Recommendations above for tips.
333 Happy Meal Blvd
Point Place, WI 55555
Of course, this is a form e-mail that interest groups use to get people to contact their legislators. Unfortunately, you’re supposed to actually fill it out for it to be effective. Genius.
Filed under: Budget — Christian Schneider @ 9:21 am
With the Governor’s new budget proposing billions of dollars in new taxes and creating substantial structural problems in the future, Republicans are powerless to stop its passage. However, there may be a way for Republicans to delay passage of the horrible bill. They just need to take a cue from this city council:
So if anyone sees this man at Famous Dave’s Barbecued Ribs before a floor session day, you can tell the plan is in place:
Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald
Update: The e-mail box is already filling up with suggestions for how the GOP can turn this into a real winner. Take this slogan, for instance:
You may have noticed that both our home website and this blog have gotten an extreme makeover. In the interest of making the sites easier to navigate and prettier to look at, we’ve undergone a full scale renovation. All the feed information should be the same, so no need to change your newsreaders.
So take the new format for a spin, and feel free to suggest changes that might make it easier to get around.