Monday, August 02, 2010

Still Hiding After All These Years

Two groups on opposite ends of the political spectrum agree on one thing: Disclosure should be avoided at all costs.

The liberal One Wisconsin Now and the conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth have joined forces to sue the state over new campaign finance disclosure rules that went into effect over the weekend. They'd obviously like to block these rules for the 2010 election season, if not for good.

It's hard to be against disclosure. That's undoubtedly why they are trying to claim that the rules approved by the state Government Accountability Board and reviewed by the Legislature are an unconstitutional violation of their free speech rights.

Never mind that the rules don't prevent them from airing any ad or otherwise spreading any message, but rather just require them to disclose how much they are spending and who's paying for it. They know that being for free speech is better than standing for secrecy, so they are relentlessly spinning this as a First Amendment case.

Their spin apparently made editors at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel dizzy, causing them to slap a headline over reporter Jason Stein's story that bears no relationship whatsoever to reality. It says "Political opposites protest ad rules; They file joint suit over new restrictions."

Restrictions? What restrictions? What activity is banned by these rules? What is being limited? What ad can't be aired? What can't be said? The rules just require disclosure.

So why are these groups so deathly afraid of disclosure that they go to such extreme lengths to mislead people about what these new state rules actually do?

Look, disclosure of who's behind a message and who's paying for it immeasurably helps the audience decide how much stock to put in that message. If you are told that Frigidaire makes better kitchen appliances than Maytag, it's pretty important to know whether that opinion comes from Consumer Reports or Frigidaire.

Special interests that want to own our government know that if the electorate is made fully aware of who they are and where their money comes from, voters will be much less likely to buy what these groups are selling.

That's why operating in the shadows is so very important to them. But they can't very well come out and say so. So after exploiting loopholes in the law for years to keep their election activities hidden from public view, now they are using the First Amendment to keep their true motives for working to keep those loopholes open a secret.

How terribly fitting.


xoff said...

Why don't you set a good example by voluntarily disclosing your own donors?

Although you are not required by law to do that, there is something inconguous about WDC wanting to know everyone else's business while hiding its own.

Anonymous said...

WDC is not an electioneering organization. Not even relevant to this discussion.

Anonymous said...

I agree with xoff. WDC may not electioneer but it sure seeks to influence public policy and public opinion. What are YOU hiding WDC?

rich r. said...

When you can't defend the secrecy of these election groups and don't have a leg to stand on, you confuse the issue and mix apples and oranges and hope the public can't sort it all out.

WDC has to do what every 501(c)(3) nonprofit must its major sources of income to the IRS. If it doesn't, it's breaking federal law and would lose its tax exempt status and be put out of business.

As a 501(c)(3), WDC cannot endorse candidates or engage in any election campaigning. If it does any of the kinds of things that would be subject to these GAB rules on disclosure, it again would be violating federal law and would be at risk of losing its tax exempt status.

The very kinds of groups that throw up this bogus charge at WDC would be first to scream bloody murder if IRS rules about how 501(c) groups have to report about their finances were changed in any way. I have a feeling WDC would go along with whatever rules were put in place because they already share more information about their sources of income in various places on their own website than other nonprofits do and much more than federal law requires of them.

Despite the diversionary tactics and lame attempts to shift attention away from the electioneering groups, the issue is still the public's right to know who is trying to influence elections, how much they are spending and where they get their money.

Anonymous said...

For those who don't know, xoff is Bill Christofferson. He runs the Greater Wisconsin Committee, one of the election groups that sponsors advertising without disclosing its spending or who is paying for all its ads. GWC campaigns for Democrats.

Anonymous said...

We just want to know how WDC is funded. The law doesn't require the Greater Wisconsin Committee and other similar groups to disclose their funding sources. The law also doesn't require WDC to disclose that information. While WDC is advocating changing the law to require others to disclose their funding, for some reason, it's not willing to do the same. Why? Who funds WDC? Why not just disclose it? What are you hiding?

xoff said...

I have never tried to hide my identity, Mr/Ms Anonymous. I am publicly identified in many places as Xoff and have been for years.

Greater Wisconsin is a 501(c)(4) tax exempt organization which does issue advocacy, and is not required by federal law -- which grants the tax exempt status -- to report donors. GAB wants to change that.

The Greater Wisconsin Political Fund is a 527 which does political advocacy and reports its donors as required. The Democracy Campaign, in turn, reports and complains about them.

Finally, Greater Wisconsin also has a state political action committtee, which can do express electioneering for and against candidates, and which is required to disclose all donations and expenses.

The Wis. Democracy Campaign, a 501(c)(3), is not required to disclose anything to the public about its funding, although it clearly does issue advocacy for public policy and attempts to influence elections indirectly. I simply suggested they do that voluntarily, to set a good example, and perhaps encourage some of their allies like Fighting Bob to do the same.

xoff said...

Incidentally, I don't "run" the Greater Wisconsin Committee. I am a member of its board.

Anonymous said...

Earlier anonymous comment: WDC wants disclosure of electioneering and should do the same. But WDC doesn't do any electioneering. So it should file a blank page with the GAB? And that would make you happy how?

Anonymous said...

Anyone notice how none of the critical comments say a word about the message in this blog post, but instead just attack the messenger? That tells you all you need to know. WDC's got the upper hand in this argument, and so will have to suffer the slings and arrows from those who can't make a coherent counterargument.

Ray said...

There is no good reason for hiding this information. Then again we are talking politics here. There is no GOOD reason for much of what passes muster in the halls of congress, the state house or city hall.