Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Not all bad news is all bad

By Bill Kraus

My sainted mother once told me that I could find something good to say about anyone even if it’s, “He’s a good bad example.”

The same can be said about what looked like bad campaign regulation news recently.

The U.S. Supreme Court, as predicted, found a way to open the door for money getting into campaigns even wider than what most already thought was wide open. The court ruled to allow those with more money than they knew what to do with to spend it on as many campaigns as they want to.

For those of us who thought that political spending was already egregiously excessive, this sounded like bad news.

This conclusion, however, ignores Newton’s law that every action creates an equal reaction. The equality may be in question, but what rulings like this one and its “Citizens United” predecessor do is draw attention to what money has done and is doing to our election system in general and to the importance of the individual voter specifically.

It becomes increasingly clear that individual voters’ modest contributions to people they favor are nice talking points but incidental to the campaigns themselves.

Add this to the massive gerrymandering that exacerbates our tendency to cluster and makes our votes less important in elections which are more and more predictable makes citizen participation in what is too often a foregone result, like the citizens themselves, bystanders.

The answer to the question, “Are you mad yet?” is a lot more likely to be “yes” than it was before the Supreme Court and the gerrymandering majorities moved us into the margins toward irrelevancy.

The importance of money in campaigns adds insult to injury by indicating that campaign strategists believe the few votes that still count are considered buyable.

The good news is that the vote is still the ultimate weapon, and if it is exercised against gerrymandering and money it’s power can be restored.

The better news is that people are beginning to play their role in Newton’s law. This is being stirred not only by the court-enhanced stature of money but by the arrogance of those who have money and power.

When the money moved into the county board election in little, old Iron County in Wisconsin, a lot of eyebrows went up everywhere in the state, maybe even beyond.

When the legislative leaders decided not to bring the now infamous cancer pill bill up for a vote because they or whoever’s lead they were taking didn’t like it and “they didn’t have the votes” to pass it, they soon learned that they did have the votes and the voters did not share their opinion of the merits of the cancer pill bill.

The New York Times sage David Brooks thinks the excesses of the Supreme Court McCutcheon decision can lead to a restoration of the parties' power that was eviscerated by the Watergate reforms which spawned entrepreneurial candidacies, political action committees, third-party participation in and domination of campaigns, and all sorts of other mischief up to and including the legislative leaders' accession to positions of inordinate power.

I am less sanguine than Brooks is about a restoration of party power, but I relish the early signs of a voter response to the exposures and disclosures that are rising to prominence in the wake of the McCutcheon decision.

Turns out my mother was right. Again.

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  1. Speaking of cancer pills, the dormant redistricting bill stalled in Sen Lazich's committee w/o a hearing deserves to be spoken about loudly and often in the 2014 legislative and gubernatorial campaigns!!!!! Having partisan gerrymandering resulting in "fixed" elections is a cancer on our democracy that could be removed by an Iowa styled redistricting reform. Thanks Bill as always for your insightful and wordly wise comments. Steve Gores:friend of reform La Crosse

  2. fyi i once donated $100 of hard earned money to my local Congressman's campaign and got a very impersonal form postcard reply acknowledgement. To me that was big money buts its clear its peanuts in our big money rules system Supreme Court seems oblivious to problem
    aggregate limits were a small step to limit money influence but no more plenty for Common Cause to keep up the good fight Constitutional amendments anyone?

    Steve Gores thank yous bill kraus fyi your blog is great