Friday, March 28, 2008

Every Kid Deserves A Misleading, Lurid TV Ad

Quite a few observers of Wisconsin politics were wondering where the state's largest teachers union was in this year's Supreme Court race. All the questions were answered with this ad sponsored by the Wisconsin Education Association Council. WEAC, the voters and the condition of our state's democracy all would have been better off if the union had kept everyone wondering.

What WEAC chose to put on the air is one of the trashiest political ads I've ever seen. Pure sleaze.

If you look at the issues WEAC works on, there's no mention of street crime. No mention of sexual predators. But yet that's what the union thought needed to be addressed in the Supreme Court race. And WEAC raised it in the most distorting, misleading and tawdry way possible.

The only thing that sets WEAC's smear campaign apart from the smear campaigns of the other interest groups trying to take ownership of our Supreme Court is that the teachers union has registered with the state and is filing reports fully disclosing its spending.

That's important, but it hardly makes this political drive-by shooting appear any less ugly.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Hidden Lie

The University of Pennsylvania Annenberg Public Policy Center's latest Political Fact Check on the Wisconsin Supreme Court race focuses not only on Mike Gableman's Willie Horton ad, but also on the most recent ad by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce that mangles the truth in what's been called the "letter from the grave" case.

The Annenberg Center spells out in considerable detail how WMC takes liberties with the facts and hypocritically ridicules Louis Butler for doing what the big business lobby says it wants all judges to do, which is adhere strictly to the constitution. But the critique doesn't touch on the more fundamental lie hidden beneath the surface.

Aside from how the truth is distorted in the letter-from-the-grave ad, the subject of the ad is itself deceptive because it conceals WMC's true motivations for wanting to influence the outcome of this year's high court race. Fighting crime appears nowhere on WMC's legislative agenda and nowhere on the group's agenda for reforming the legal system.

The reason WMC's campaign advertising fans the public's fear of violent crime is that WMC knows it can't very well square with the voters and say they want a court that will favor corporations in product liability cases or tax cases. The kingmakers at WMC know if they air an ad effectively saying "we want judges who won't hold corporations liable for defective products" or "we want a Supreme Court that won't make corporations pay the taxes they owe," the public will reject those messages.

WMC is not alone in keeping the public in the dark about the real reasons for opposing one candidate or supporting another. Not a one of the shadowy front groups has come clean and told voters what is really driving them to try to buy a seat on the Supreme Court. They know if they did they would lose.

So they spend their loot trying to scare the bejesus out of voters instead. In other words, they live a lie.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Part-Timers Get $47K a Year Plus Expenses? Only In The Legislature

The Assembly spent only 27 days in session doing the public's business from the beginning of 2007 through March 13, 2008 because Wisconsin has a part-time legislature, according to Republican Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch.

That's a revelation because being a Wisconsin legislator has been considered a full-time job since the mid-1990s, with a salary to boot.

It seems unlikely most Wisconsin residents think part-timers should get $47,413 plus an average $8,771 in food and lodging expenses a year. And by the way, Huebsch and other legislative leaders - Assembly and Senate Republicans and Democrats - voted 8-1 to increase legislative pay 6.3 percent to $50,438 in 2009.

Legislators make more than most people. The state's average personal income is $34,476 and we're betting most of the people that earn that and less are expected to put in 40 hours a week.

The Legislature worked little and accomplished little because powerful special interests like the insurance industry, big business led by the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the construction industry, realtors and unions like the Wisconsin Education Association Council that gave legislators $7 million in 2005-06 to keep their jobs have told them not to address real solutions that may cost their pay masters.

Voters ought to show their outrage about this whenever they see these so-called policymakers between now and Election Day. Doggedly question why they did so little, why they worked only one month in 15 and why they should earn more than many Wisconsin residents who are real full-time wage earners.

Tell them to get back to work instead of throwing candy at you from a shiny parade car.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Gableman 'Willie Hortons' Butler

Michael Gableman must be desperate. Or else he's as sinisterly cynical as they come. Gableman's smear of Louis Butler – his opening salvo in the ad wars – is offensive on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin. The ad clearly and intentionally misleads viewers, playing fast and loose with the facts and leaning heavily on deceptive insinuations. And its not-so-subtle appeal to racism evokes memories of the infamous Willie Horton ad in the 1988 presidential campaign.

That's not all that's wrong with this ad. It commits the same act of violence against public understanding of the Supreme Court's role in our justice system that the interest group ads are committing. Virtually all of the advertising in this year's race creates the impression that fighting crime is the primary if not sole function of the Supreme Court, as if candidates for the high court were running for sheriff or district attorney. But the Supreme Court is not a sheriff's office or a DA's office. And it is not a trial court that is responsible for conducting trials and sentencing convicted criminals.

The public's knowledge of the third branch of government has long left a great deal to be desired. It surely will be worse after this election is over.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Lying...Er...Vying For Power

Even though state Supreme Court candidate Michael Gableman has been caught in a lie that he curiously will neither confess nor stop repeating, it is the phony front groups and special interest organizations that are doing almost all of the talking in this year's high court race and they are traveling the lowest of low roads.

Some of the ads peddle outright lies. One claims incumbent Louis Butler overturned a murder conviction despite overwhelming evidence of his guilt, but neglects to mention that new DNA evidence seriously undercut a key part of the prosecution's case. Both anti-Butler ads and anti-Gableman ads have gotten the facts wrong or have been found unfair or misleading.

But the dishonesty in the campaign advertising isn't limited to such twisting of the facts. A significant part of the deception is simply the subjects the ads focus on in the first place. By far the most common advertising theme is crime fighting. What these law-and-order ads don't tell viewers is that the Supreme Court deals almost exclusively with civil cases, not criminal ones, and almost all criminal cases are decided in lower courts.

What's more, the groups sponsoring these ads call them "issue advocacy," but more times than not the issues they are advocating on are not even on their agendas. Like most of the TV spots, ads launched by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce focus on crime fighting. Yet if you look at WMC's legislative agenda, fighting crime is nowhere to be found. And if you look specifically at WMC's agenda for reforming the legal system, again there's no mention of making sure our streets and neighborhoods are safe.

Other big advertisers in the Supreme Court race are similarly keeping the public in the dark about their real motivations for backing a particular candidate. Their so-called "issue advocacy" is a hoax. They are trying to buy the court, pure and simple.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

When A Supermajority Isn't Enough

The star of the show at today's "Unfinished Business" rally at the Capitol by the People's Legislature surely was former Department of Natural Resources Secretary and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation director George Meyer.
The one-time member of Tommy Thompson's cabinet issued a stinging indictment of the Legislature’s stonewalling of a bipartisan measure restoring independence to the DNR by giving the authority to appoint the agency’s secretary back to the Natural Resources Board. Under Thompson, the authority was taken from the board and given to the governor.
The state Conservation Congress overwhelmingly supports an independent DNR, Meyer said, and not a single citizen testified against the legislation at public hearings. The only opposition came from a handful of business lobby groups.
Meyer saved his most damning remarks for the end, when he said there's a “supermajority” of legislators who have either sponsored the legislation or voted for it, yet Assembly leaders have blocked a final vote. He said legislative leaders have acknowledged to him that the Senate-passed bill would get somewhere between 70 and 75 votes in the Assembly, but it will not be debated because of “business opposition.”

Friday, March 07, 2008

Robin In Boy Wonderland

Yesterday, an Assembly committee shot down a proposed ban on campaign fundraising during the state budget process. Committee chair Sheryl Albers, a co-sponsor of the legislation, voted against her own bill.

Even stranger than that was the reason committee member Robin Vos, a Racine Republican, gave for opposing the bill. Vos urged his colleagues not to "give in" to the "perception" that state lawmakers are corrupt. One of his compatriots, Waukesha Republican Bill Kramer, eagerly seconded that notion.

We've passed through the looking glass here. Politicians engage in the smarmy business of shaking down special interests for campaign donations while they are making budget decisions that directly affect those interests, but are indignant when anyone suggests these transactions are crooked. And then when 2% of state residents tell a conservative pollster that they trust state legislators to do the right thing and 82% say lobbying groups determine what the state spends money on, they say it's imperative not to "give in" to these mere perceptions and they kill a decidedly modest reform plan that takes a baby step toward changing the unseemly game they are playing.

Is it something in the water at the Capitol?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

An American Journey

Thirty-some years ago, here's how it was . . . .

Today it's like this . . . .

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Assembly GOP Helps Big Contributors At The Expense Of Autistic Children

Assembly Republicans bent on not requiring insurance companies to cover treatments for autistic children have accepted $2.5 million in campaign contributions since 1993 from insurance, business, manufacturing and banking interests that oppose the measure.

Instead, the Assembly GOP caucus supports a corporate welfare proposal that gives insurers a pass by putting $6 million in state taxpayer dollars into a program to help 325 autistic children on the program's waiting list. It doesn't help those who are not on the list or the one in 192 children born in Wisconsin with autism in the future.

The four special interests that oppose expanding insurance coverage for autistic children are among the Assembly Republicans' most generous benefactors. Their $2.5 million in contributions comprise 30 percent of the $8.41 million Assembly Republicans have accepted since 1993 from all 23 major special interest groups.

The most affected group - insurers - has contributed $1.26 million to current legislators since 1993. Assembly Republicans got $474,609, or 38 percent - the biggest cut of the four legislative caucuses.

Keep an eye on how they vote today on their pro-insurance industry change to Senate Bill 178.