“Non-Partisan” Virtually Never Is: Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
When there’s an ethical question about elected officials and campaign money, you’ll almost always hear from Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.The group offers an excuse, so how do we know this is an example of ideological bias?
Over the years, the nonprofit group has made a name for itself by speaking out on questionable campaign spending and donations.
But what happens when the watchdog runs into its own potential conflict of interest?
That happened this year.
One critic says the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign fared no better than the pols it often criticizes. Specifically, the group failed to file a formal complaint over a disputed campaign matter, the critic maintains, because it might have hit some of its financial supporters.
“I’d be shocked if that didn’t have an impact,” said Ryan Murray, spokesman for state Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican from Juneau. “They’ve never had a problem filing complaints even when it was obvious the Elections Board wasn’t going to do anything about it. I find it curious this is the one issue where they decide to stay hands off.”
This year, two Democratic lawmakers - Sens. Judy Robson and Jon Erpenbach - came under fire for joining with interest groups to bankroll a poll on a universal health care plan called Healthy Wisconsin. Robson and Erpenbach each contributed $3,000 in campaign funds.
Republicans and state officials suggested that the pair might have violated campaign rules by getting to see the full results of the survey, which must have cost much more than three grand a piece. Plus, the pair might have received a financial benefit from interest groups not permitted to give to pols under campaign laws.
Kinda technical stuff, but you get the idea.
Despite his qualms about the poll, a top elections official said his office wouldn’t look into the matter unless someone filed a formal complaint. Fitzgerald called on the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign to do just that, and McCabe responded by saying he thought regulators should investigate.
That was four months ago.
Since then, this is what has happened: Exactly nothing.
Well . . . we might look at the company the organization keeps.
The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign has at least seven “coalition organizations” that also are members of the Wisconsin Health Care Reform Campaign, the primary funding source for the poll.The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, in other words, is a liberal lobby group. The are no more a nonpartisan watchdog than the ACLU is a protector of the Bill of Rights, or the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee represents a broad spectrum of religious believers.
Among the organizations that belong to both groups are the American Association of Retired Persons, the American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin and the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups, all of which also have a rep on the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s 14-member board.
Murray said this explains the watchdog group’s inaction. Otherwise, he said, the issues surrounding the controversial poll are right down McCabe’s alley.
“That’s his bread and butter,” Murray said. “And now he’s saying that doesn’t interest him anymore.”
None of this is a brilliant piece of investigative journalism. But how soon do you think we’ll see some reporter describe the The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign as “nonpartisan?”
Kathy Carpenter at Stepping Right Up does a little research on the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, and shows how wide and how deep its ties to the state’s leftist political network are. And the ties are not merely to “mainstream” liberal groups, but to the scruffy activist fringe.