At Tuesday's public hearing on campaign finance reform, only one speaker testified in opposition to reform – James Buchen of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. In his testimony, Buchen told more than a few tall tales, none taller than his claim that public financing of election campaigns has proven to be an "abject failure."
Elected officials from both parties and citizens alike sing the praises of public financing programs that have been put in place in states like Arizona and Maine. A judge from North Carolina, where there is now full public financing of judicial races, feels so strongly about the benefits of her state's campaign financing system that she went to the trouble of sending a guest column to a Seattle newspaper when she learned the state of Washington is thinking of reforming the way it finances judicial elections.
A report entitled "Keeping It Clean" by the California-based Center for Governmental Studies spends 154 pages detailing the finer points of public financing of elections in states across the country and chronicling the successes of these programs.
Go here, here, here and here for even more evidence of how well public financing is working in states from one end of America to the other.
Of course, it's obvious why Buchen and WMC choose to ignore all this evidence and conclude that publicly financed elections represent a failed policy. Under the current system of privately funded elections in Wisconsin, WMC gets to do far more than its fair share of the talking during campaigns. The big business lobby spent $2.5 million in last fall's race for state attorney general and just dropped at least another $2 million on the April 3 state Supreme Court election.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson made it clear in her testimony at Tuesday's hearing what she thinks of such special interest influence in races for a seat on the state's highest court, and was unequivocal in her support for publicly financed elections.
Reform creating voter-owned, clean elections would level the playing field and force WMC and Buchen to do something they want no part of – participate in a debate without monopolizing the floor. It also would stop them from buying elections and thereby purchasing one tax break after another that have shifted the tax burden in Wisconsin from corporations to working families.
As this story makes clear, WMC doesn't speak for a united business community on the subject of taxes. And not everyone in the business world is towing the WMC party line on campaign finance reform, either, as this recent guest column by a retired medical industry executive illustrates. Moreover, the Small Business Times was so taken by the Democracy Campaign's pro-reform testimony that the trade journal featured it on its Milwaukee Biz Blog.