Money--the mother's milk of politics--is going to find a way into political campaigns.
Big money has made minor leaguers of the business organizations, unions, and other interest groups that used to be the 500-pound gorillas of politics.
The once dominant political parties are fiscally anemic paper tigers.
The Supreme Court is now in its third century of saying that corporations and other organizations are people and that money is speech. It is not going to change its mind. This means the courts are not a route to spending rules and limits.
Legislators’ efforts to create some kind of equality with the super PACs and other third parties (like lengthening the time lobbyists can contribute and raising the contribution limits a few thousand bucks) are spitting into a 40-mile-an-hour gale.
The super PACs and their billionaire funders are the reigning 500-pound gorillas.
So what can be done to level the playing field and get the people back into the game?
Exposure, disclosure, and stigmatization is what.
The people are showing more and more signs of paying attention to the erosion of their power.
“What is going on here?” is a question that is asked more often by more people in New Jersey for sure and Wisconsin as well.
The quick turnaround in the state Senate on the maneuvering to kill the cancer pill bill is an encouraging win for exposure.
Certainly there will be some kind of reaction to a super PAC’s interest in a county board election in Iron County.
More and more voters are wanting to know, “Who are these people, where are they getting their money, and who and what are they buying?”
The disclosure bills that have languished are now moving up on the voters’ short lists.
This is no longer “inside politics.”
As, if, and when disclosure becomes law and if the demand for more openness persists, the ultimate reform—-stigmatization of money itself—-will become a reality.
There was a time when taking big donations from anyone and any donations from faraway places was viewed with justified suspicion to the extent that candidates shied away from both on the grounds that the money they got cost them more votes than the use of the money could buy.
We are a long way from where we once were. But we do seem to be headed in that direction.
Regulation won’t work. Spending limits are anathema to the courts. But the common sense questions—-who is in charge here, and why aren’t those we elect telling us what they are doing and why?—-are being asked as the feeling that those we voted into office are less beholden to us than to the money that they believe is what really elected them.
Tom Jackson, who is about to retire as a legislative staffer, told the Wisconsin State Journal recently that he learned to focus his resources where he had the best chance to make a difference.
Good advice. Focus on exposure and disclosure if you want to make votes count more and money less.
Office: Common Cause Wisconsin