Sunday, February 12, 2012


By Bill Kraus

The first time I realized there were activities that were beyond regulation was when the songwriters tried to stop the development of technology that would make it possible for listeners to tape songs off the radio for their own private purposes. It couldn’t be done.

More recently this same issue has come up vis a vis the also universal and uncontrollable internet. This isn’t settled yet, but it is pretty clear that technology has probably put the things that can be done on the internet beyond regulation as well.

Is the flow of money into political campaigns in the same category?

Could be.

Some 20 years ago Tim Cullen testified before a Legislative Council committee headed by Senator Dave Helbach and Representative Peter Bock that was trying to contain political fundraising and spending otherwise known as Campaign Finance Reform.

Tim used the analogy of a balloon. “There is a certain amount of money that is going to flow into political campaigns,” he said. “If you visualize it as being contained in a balloon, what regulation can attempt is to squeeze one end of the balloon down. What will happen is the money in the balloon will pop up elsewhere.”

Is money coming into politics truly beyond regulation?

I am beginning to think it is.

With the balloon analogy aided and abetted by a long series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions knocking down any and all attempts to channel and contain political contributions, the free market free-for-all has reached ever new highs every campaign season.

If the premise is correct, the fact that the incumbent officeholders who could impose whatever regulations are still possible have little or no interest in doing so is almost irrelevant.

The problem goes deeper than that.

So what’s to be done?

How about nothing?

Is it time to surrender to reality and quit trying to regulate who can give to whom how much and when?

How about a true free market where the already unregulated outsiders are joined by the candidates themselves in a world free of regulation?

The goody two shoes reformers like me will object. The legislative leaders who have inherited the power that attends the ability to raise and channel money will not be happy. The organizations who collect and bundle money from their members and donors and use it to run parallel campaigns for candidates they like or against those they don’t or who make donations that are dependent on the docility of candidates on the interests they are promoting or opposing may lose their ability to hijack campaigns.

The law of unintended consequences will come heavily into play in a free-market system, but that’s nothing new.

Who would have thought a casino mogul would single-handedly keep a presidential candidacy alive or that taking or not taking a pledge in Wisconsin would determine who could entertain a candidacy in a recall election?

All these and other untoward, unanticipated developments prove is that the present half-slave, half-free system is not working.

Would a free-market election system be so revealing of the role of special interests and money and so egregiously corrupting that the voters, who are the only people who can fix anything they don’t like, would start voting against money instead of for the bought and paid-for candidates who have the most and the best commercials?

Anything is possible.

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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