Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Change in a time of beholdenism

By Bill Kraus

As the occupiers, recallers, and other malcontents are about to learn, the mostly invincible incumbents who occupy our legislatures are largely deaf, dumb, and blind to their supplications.

As a veteran of multiple failed attempts to alter the electoral status quo, I feel equipped to offer several warnings and a little helpful advice.

The first warning is that enormous power has devolved on legislative leaders. The political parties, since they lost the power to recruit, slate, fund and manage campaigns, are noisy paper tigers. The tea party types and possibly the occupiers (if they get serious about acquiring power) could do some of this, but for the most part the legislative leaders are filling the pipeline. Are they filling it with rambunctious, aggressive, creative talents? They are not. They want lemmings. Empty suits. Followers. To a very large extent they seem to have gotten what they want in our state.

This means that anyone who wants something the legislative leaders do not want has his or her work cut out for him or her.

The legislative leaders think they know where they got their power and are not going to do anything to annoy those to whom they are beholden for their power and prestige. The legislative leaders reject changes that remove some of the threats to their well-being more or less routinely. They know how they got where they are and will rebuff any ideas that threaten their routes to power.

They are beholden to the status quo generally. More specifically they are beholden to anyone or any organization that is or are organized to deliver money to their campaigns and campaign organizations or that threaten their incumbencies in other ways.

Examples of the latter are organizations like the NRA (the National Rifle Association) and AARP (the American Association of Retired Persons). For reasons that befuddle me, these organizations, which do not contribute money or associate with either political party, almost always get their way. I concede that the golden oldies are not as formidable as they were once, but the NRA rules everywhere but in Illinois of all places.

Money suppliers are revered, respected and protected, which is understandable in a money-driven political system. This seems to be inevitable. It is not always reprehensible.

Where money goes astray is when it is connected to ideology. The most egregious are the single-issue organizations that want their contributions to be unfettered and anonymous.

One of the electoral reform ideas that everyone once respected and even urged, and that an otherwise deaf, dumb, and blind U.S. Supreme Court has approved and even recommended, is the disclosure of the names of contributors to organizations that participate alongside candidates’ campaigns in supporting or opposing candidacies.

It is no secret that the Wisconsin Right to Life organization has told its supporters on both sides of the aisle that disclosure of contributors would dry up the organization’s funding. Is that why a Democratic Assembly Speaker trashed a disclosure bill and why a Republican Assembly Speaker has said he will refuse to consider one? I’ll listen to a better reason if anyone has one.

Since secret contributors fund organizations on the anarchistic right and the socialistic left which interfere with and hijack campaigns without compunction, one would think that the candidates in those campaigns would want to know who their real enemies (the contributors) are so they could mount specific counterattacks. One would be wrong.

Money is golden. Secret money is whatever is more precious than gold.

The malcontents are about to learn that unless they or their goals come to the battle armed with large amounts of money, or their followers are disciplined, predictable lock step voters who can be relied on to turn out on election day, they are going to get what those of us who have been trying to clean up and reform campaign spending for years have received.

It’s called the brush-off.

Follow Bill Kraus on:
twitter / wmkraus

Bill Kraus is the Co-Chair of Common Cause in Wisconsin's State Governing Board

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