Campaign Finance Reform Most Important Issue Facing Wisconsin’s Legislature

The number one issue facing the State of Wisconsin is not property taxes, crime, better jobs, or education.  The number one issue is not sexy, nor does it rank among the top issues voters talk about when listing their concerns over the future course of the state. Yet this issue affects every other topic up for debate, and as a result by not correctly addressing it everything else suffers.

The issue is, of course, campaign finance reform.

Our state once boasted about our clean government, but over the past several years we have had to hang our collective heads in shame as leaders from both parties, and in both legislative houses, have faced criminal charges for undermining the oaths they took to serve the public. Many indictments were grounded in the over-reaching, and never-ending search for campaign dollars.

Every piece of legislation is tainted and tarnished with lobbyist’s dollars, and deal making which ill serves the public. Bills dealing with transportation, gaming compacts, abortion, guns, and health care all involve the underlying chase for dollars and campaign contributions, making policy captive to the special interests. This is absolutely no way to conduct the people’s business. Every elected official is driven by the needs of ever increasing costs of campaigns, and the relentless search for dollars to fund them.  In the end policy goals are short-changed, and the general public ill-served.

Anyone who has ever worked in the Capitol, reported on the workings there, or followed state politics in the newspapers knows that what I write paints the picture of reality in the Statehouse more often than not. This practice of grabbing campaign cash infects and poisons the deliberative legislative process that should be the firewall against abuses that taints legislation.  The process is no longer clean as the need for campaign cash gives lobbyists bidding rights on every piece of legislation.  The outcome may be great for special interests, but the average voters are left with bad policy decisions, and a government that can be bought and sold.

The mighty important issue of campaign finance reform is needed to sturdy the foundations of state government.  Sen. Mike Ellis, and Sen. Jon Erpenbach, have a bill that would, among other things set spending limits on state races, and prohibit fundraising during state budget negotiations. The fact that no forward motion has been made on the bill tells us all volumes about the way the folks inside the Statehouse feel about reform measures.

Some pretend the 800-pound gorilla of campaign corruption is not in the Statehouse.  Still others have actually become best friends with the beast. In the past when elected officials were caught they made feeble and embarrassing pleas as to their innocence and spewed “rationale’ as to why they had to act in the fashion they did. Only when confronted with jail time and fines are they able to find the words to finally convey their sorrow at undermining the political process.

For a long time I have been on record as a real Democrat embracing reform.   But my party has not always been truly pro-active in Wisconsin on this matter, and Governor Jim Doyle has shown no leadership ability to fix the campaign finance reform monster.

The issue is far too important to pretend that it doesn’t exist, or that the “other party” is more to blame for the problem.  Enough already.

When real leaders stand up on this matter they will have statewide support from newspaper editorial boards, and independents who seem to care more about this issue than partisans.

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2 thoughts on “Campaign Finance Reform Most Important Issue Facing Wisconsin’s Legislature

  1. This post speaks volumes about the most ignored issue that our state and nation faces..Campaign Finance Reform. This is not a party issue, it is a democracy issue. A democracy cannot stand up for itself, it requires citizens to stand up for it. Democracy should work for everyone. It is this principle that has prompted me to run for the Wisconsin State Assembly. Wisconsin needs leadership that will stand up for the voting public and take this issue to the forefront. My name is Kevin Garthwaite and if you want real campaign finance reform, support my campaign. Go to and see how you can contribute to a campaign that wants to serve the people, not rich lobby and special interest groups.

    Kevin R. Garthwaite

  2. I thought the Dems were going to do it this year, but obviously they are no more serious than the R’s. Even Doyle has thumbed his nose at reform.

    I applaud Erpenbach and Ellis, though I prefer the full public financing outlined in the Risser-Pocan bill.

    If something is not done soon, I fully expect that 2008 will be the year of the independents.

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