Monday, June 15, 2015

It's all about the money, stupid

By Bill Kraus

Former Governor Lee Dreyfus’s golden rule for politics: Those who have the gold make the rules.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign recently published a list of the top “rule makers” in Wisconsin over the last 4 1/2 years. In total this group contributed $116,671,117 during that period to advance their interests by promoting ideas and candidates or by criticizing opposing ideas and candidates.

Many of the groups' interests are obvious. The state’s largest business organization is on the list. It doesn’t represent all the state’s businesses or even all of its own members, but it isn’t required to disclose which businesses contributed to its political communications. The National Rifle Association is, surprisingly, on the list. Who knew they needed to spend money to get their way?

Most of the spending was by groups with apple pie and motherhood names, including the biggest single spender The Greater Wisconsin Committee which put $27,600,000 into the game. The names We Are Wisconsin, The Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity, and Citizens for a Strong America are only vague indicators of the interests of these contributing groups. The Democracy campaign’s release reveals a little or a lot about most of these organizations. One large player is the American Federation for Children which is headed by three former speakers of the Wisconsin Assembly and whose agenda is promoting and expanding education by voucher-supported schools.

The side effect of all this spending by well-endowed interest groups is obvious. The comparatively small contributions by individuals don’t really count for much anymore. The game is increasingly rigged and it’s rigged to favor big money and what big money favors.

Despite the fact that small money doesn’t count, votes are still the ultimate weapon. Votes count even more if they are cast against money and against the way the money wants them to be cast.

But to make votes count the voters must know more about the agendas and interests of those who are ruling by money. They also must know if the people they do vote for are really representing them or are beholden to the big money that they believe is what got them elected.

This is not all that easy to find out. The contributors to these monied organizations and interest groups are not disclosed like the contributors to candidates and their organizations are.

Disclosure legislation that is regularly proposed and just as regularly ignored by the incumbents who are the presumed beneficiaries of the golden rule would provide this information to voters.

Voters who want to know who is really calling the shots these days can ask the candidates who are asking for their votes whether they support more disclosure from these new rule makers. A caution: only a “yes” answer to this question means yes; all other answers, no matter how positive sounding. like “it sounds good to me” or “my staff is looking into it” really mean “no.”

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