Thursday, September 21, 2006

Sleazy Doyle Campaign Tactic Highlights Dangers of Finance Reform

Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Jim Doyle is still running, as of this evening, TV ads claiming that Republican Mark Green “laundered dirty money” in violation of Wisconsin campaign finance laws.

This is about the most cynical and shameless tactic we have seen.

In review, a little chronology:

  • In 2001, Democrat Tom Barrett, former Congressman, transfers money from his “federal account” (were it would be used had he wanted to run for Congress again) to his “state account” (where he could use it to run for mayor of Milwaukee). This had the explicit approval of the State Elections Board.
  • Republican Gubernatorial candidate Mark Green, wanting to do the same thing Barrett did, asked the Elections Board whether this would be acceptable, and got a letter from the Board’s staff accepting the transfer.
  • In January, 2005, Green transferred the money.
  • The day after the transfer, the Elections Board met, and in a party line vote passed a rule making it illegal to transfer money the way Green did. And it made the rule retroactive to apply it to Green’s transfer.
Green, of course, refused to return the money, and promised to take the Elections Board to court.

At this point, Doyle attacked, accusing Green of breaking the law in keeping his “dirty money.”

Even the liberal Journal-Sentinel sided with Green, calling the decision “rank partisanship.”

But It Gets Worse

The Journal-Sentinel reported today that Mike Maistelman, an attorney for Doyle’s campaign, was giving marching orders to Democratic members of the Elections Board.
A lawyer for Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle’s campaign repeatedly lobbied three Democratic members of the State Elections Board before they voted with the majority to order Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Green to divest $467,844 in donations from out-of-state political action committees, records show.

Attorney Michael S. Maistelman bluntly told Democratic Party members of the board he contacted why they should publicly sanction or punish the Green campaign, according to documents obtained by the Journal Sentinel under the state’s open records law.

“Even if this ends up in Court it is a PR victory for us since it makes Green spend money and have to defend the use of his Washington DC dirty money,” Maistelman said in a 9:31 a.m. e-mail one day before the vote. He sent the message to Carl Holborn and Kerry Dwyer, board members appointed by Democratic leaders of the Legislature.

Holborn, Dwyer and another Democratic appointee, Robert Kasieta, were part of a five-vote majority that gave Green’s campaign 10 days to divest itself of $467,844 in donations from political action committees not registered in Wisconsin - an order the Green campaign will fight in a Dane County courtroom today.
Note the stunning cynicism of the “PR victory” language.

This is not about enforcing the law. It’s about election tactics.

The Broader Lessons

It’s easy to deplore all this but let’s, for a moment, look at the broader issues.

When government controls campaign finances, these sorts of antics are unavoidable.

It’s easy to say that we merely need to make the Elections Board “nonpartisan.” But that’s easier said that done. The U.S. Supreme Court, remember, is supposed to be “nonpartisan.”

Campaign finance laws are not enacted by a bevy of Platonic guardians. They are enacted by politicians who can be expected to protect their own interests.

And, this fiasco reminds us, those who administer campaign finance laws are not a bevy of Platonic guardians either.

So defining campaign finance rules becomes just another battle in the political war.

And one wins the battle not by going to the people and making a case, but by impeding one’s opponent’s ability to go to the people and make a case.

Thus the net effect of campaign finance reform is to move the important battles out of the democratic arena, and have them fought by lawyers in courts.

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