Spotlights foes in election reform
In offering a history of Wisconsin’s transparency and campaign finance victories and setbacks, Jay Heck of Common Cause Wisconsin did not cast Gov. Scott Walker in a flattering light.
Heck, the executive director the nonpartisan group, spoke about the influence of big money in Wisconsin politics at a forum on Thursday. When then-state Rep. Walker was in charge of a special session on campaign finance reform in 1998, Walker was OK with special interest money and cast public financing for elections as welfare for politicians, Heck said.
He did not pull punches when it came to Democrats either, calling out members of both parties who refused to limit the influence of money in politics when they had the chance.
Heck gave a history of political spending in the state and country beginning in the late 1800s when money played a major role in William McKinley’s election to the presidency.
“There are two important things in American politics. The first is money, and I’ve forgotten what the second was,” Heck said, paraphrasing McKinley’s backer Mark Hanna. “And it’s as true now as it was in 1896.”
The event was put on by the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service and the American Association of University Women. It drew about 75 people to the University of Wisconsin Marathon County, including many already concerned about campaign financing.
One attendee, Milt Pachal, had helped instigate a successful referendum in Wausau last fall declaring that money isn’t speech and corporations aren’t people.
“There’s two sides to this story. It seems like it ebbs and flows,” Pachal said about how members of both parties are responsible for dark money in politics. He encourages voters to look at how candidates stand on these issues of finance and transparency, rather than focusing on party affiliation.
Heck scrutinized Walker’s actions on Act 10 and the events surrounding the John Doe probe into his recall election campaign. Act 10 crippled unions’ power to impact elections, Heck said. Then he questioned the partiality of the state’s Supreme Court because some members won elections with support from the same groups under review in the John Doe probe.
Former Gov. Jim Doyle, who ran on a platform of reform, failed to deliver it, Heck said. A scandal that peaked in 2002 with criminal charges against state leaders of both parties and chambers was a low point that Doyle campaigned to fix, Heck said.
But with an election on the horizon, Heck said, Doyle turned his back on a bipartisan reform effort. “This happens to a lot of folks. When you’re in power it’s sometimes easier to raise money.
“He worked against the bill and a number of Democrats turned against the bill,” Heck said. “It was the last great opportunity we had in Wisconsin to get the spending back in control. … It was a tragedy.”
He told the audience that sometimes things get worse before they get better, though several questions at the end of the forum asked about how to engage more voters on the issue.
“I learned so much,” said Joyce Luedke, after the event. “The challenge is: What do we do?”
Heck suggested electing strong leaders and getting more boots on the ground for candidates who champion financing reforms.