Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Hey, Have You Heard There Was a Scandal in the Capitol?

In their never-ending quest for campaign finance "reform," the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel treats us to this article today, which begins with the following sentence:

Reeling from a Capitol scandal that led to the criminal convictions of five former lawmakers, new leaders of the Legislature on Tuesday laid out reforms they plan to pass next year.
Oh really? The Capitol is "reeling" from a scandal? Did something happen recently that has shed new light on corruption under the dome?

Well... no. Actually, the "scandal" to which the article refers is the campaign activity which occurred in 1999 and 2000 which led to charges being brought against elected officials in 2002. However, you'll notice the article doesn't mention a single date to give some context as to what "scandal" the article is referencing. Your average citizen would pick up the paper and have no idea what scandal happened or when it occurred. Tomorrow, I expect to pick up the paper and read that creepy white guys are still "reeling" over the Dahmer verdict.

This is typical of the print media in the state, who can barely help editorializing in favor of free speech restrictions in their news articles. They fully support restricting the ability of individuals and organizations to express their opinions on candidates during campaigns, as it allows the media more influence in shaping election season rhetoric.

In order to push for their beloved "reforms," they must constantly create an atmosphere of scandal. They take it upon themselves to create an environment that demands "action," which generally means shutting the public out of campaign debate. One would think that several major politicians ending up in jail means the current laws are - at the very least - adequate, but the Journal-Sentinel thinks it means we should be using taxpayer money to run campaigns.

And what are these groundbreaking reforms that are being pitched by Senate Democrats? A one-year cooling-off period before former legislators can become lobbyists; an end to paper ballots used by Senate committees; and more advance notice before legislative committees vote on legislation.

Presto! There you have it - clean government. Chuck Chvala wouldn't be in jail today for extorting money from lobbyists if only legislators hadn't been using paper ballots to vote in committee. Everyone knows that Brian Burke solicited campaign contributions in his Capitol office and filed false per diem reports solely because committees only gave 24 hours notice on their agendas. When that handful of legislators that leave their seats and try to make a living with a lobbying job can't do it anymore, it will turn everything around.

Of course, you'll never see anyone quoted in these articles that makes a rational argument about why campaign finance reform is a bad idea. The paper goes about trashing elected officials, then plays on the anti-politician sentiment to get what's in its best interest - silencing everyone else. It seems freedom of speech doesn't extend much past the newsroom.

UPDATE: The article also makes reference to a bill that would merge the State Elections and Ethics boards. As I've written before, I'm still skeptical that such a bill would make any meaningful difference, aside from lessening Jim Doyle's stranglehold on the Elections Board.