Unlimited money, anonymity make a bad mix

WHAT’S WORSE, POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS working directly with special-interest groups, which the Wisconsin Supreme Court recently authorized, or not knowing who is fueling those groups?

The answer is both.

It’s no secret that many politicians who aren’t multi-millionaires - and even some who are - are bought and paid for by the rich and powerful in this country, thanks in part to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

But allowing unlimited campaign “contributions” and anonymity invites corruption in which every issue and policy is openly for sale to the highest successful bidder, meaning those who lay their money down on the winning candidates.

As with most issues, there is another side to this. That is, business owners with strong political leanings who publicly contribute to campaigns or speak out for or against an issue or candidate risk having their livelihoods threatened by organized opposition, specifically boycotts of their businesses. There were examples of this during the heated debate that accompanied the passage of Act 10 in 2011 that stripped most public employees of their collective bargaining rights.

Many would argue that paying a personal price is something that has to be weighed when deciding to become politically active. That may be unavoidable, but it’s the argument some use to justify anonymous contributions. In the end, however, openness needs to prevail; otherwise we risk being led by puppet regimes in which the elected leaders are simply well-spoken representatives of nameless special interests.

The best solutions to prevent “buying” candidates and never-ending campaigns are shorter campaigns and public financing of those campaigns, but neither idea ever has garnered much support. The main argument is that the Constitution guarantees the right to express one’s opinions. So if one citizen has millions of dollars and the next citizen is poor - too bad.

The other argument is that no matter how hard we may try, we’ll never keep money out of politics.

But in shutting down the John Doe investigation that had been looking into whether Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign illegally collaborated with third-party groups, we now have rich special-interest groups and individuals able to give unlimited amounts of money anonymously that can be coordinated directly with the campaigns.

The end result will be an inability to cross-check those donations against later legislation that benefits the donors, whether the beneficiaries are unions, businesses, oil companies, a mega-rich casino owner, or whomever.

There is no perfect campaign finance system, but an increasing number of frustrated citizens are realizing that the current arrangement is not what our founders intended, and it’s not leading us to a better place. — Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, Sept. 8

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