A traffic jam on the low road of politics

    Voters across the state are enduring smear campaigns waged by cloaked special interest groups intent on controlling the state Legislature. Little is known about the groups responsible because they are operating outside the law, exploiting a gaping loophole to get around disclosure requirements and skirt campaign contribution limits.

    Swiss banks are known the world over as the place to stash ill-gotten gains, keep questionable finances one step ahead of the law or otherwise stockpile riches with no questions asked. So-called "issue ad" groups are their political equivalent.

    The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign maintains a section of our web site (www.wisdc.org) that we call "Hijacking Election 2008" (available online at http://www.wisdc.org/ind08issueads.php). We’re now updating it several times a day as we learn of new under-the-radar hatchet jobs in state legislative races by groups like All Children Matter and Building a Stronger Wisconsin.

    These shadowy front groups are creating a traffic jam on the low road, stuffing mailboxes and in some cases filling the airwaves in key battleground districts with paint-by-numbers attacks. All Children Matter assails Democratic candidates, claiming they all support health care benefits for illegal aliens. Building a Stronger Wisconsin attacks Republicans on the grounds that they don’t care about school kids and rape victims.

    All Children Matter is based in Michigan and is the brainchild of the DeVos family that founded Amway Corporation. Dick DeVos spent $40 million of his own money trying to become governor of Michigan and his wife, Betsy, has been the state Republican Party chief in Michigan. Her brother, Erik Prince, is head of Blackwater Security, which supplies mercenaries in Iraq and elsewhere.

    Even less is known about Building a Stronger Wisconsin. It has a web site (www.buildingastrongerwi.com) and a post office box in Waunakee, Wisconsin. Its treasurer is listed as Randy Nash, a Milwaukee-area attorney and unsuccessful Democratic Senate candidate in 1996.

    What is clear is that the money raised to fund their smears is not disclosed to the public. Voters have been kept entirely in the dark about who’s paying for this gutter campaigning.

    Four groups – Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Greater Wisconsin Committee, Club for Growth and the Coalition for America’s Families – raised and spent two out of every three dollars in the last two state Supreme Court elections and accounted for nearly 90 percent of the television advertising in this year’s race.

    Voters have been given no clue about where the money came from to pay for all those ads either.
    Electioneering by trade associations, lobbying organizations and party front groups abounds in state elections now, and who pays the bills is a secret.

    It’s secret because of that loophole I mentioned. Not only does it allow them to operate like Swiss banks, it allows them to effectively take the "r" out of "free" speech.

    It’s a loophole that can and should be closed. At its last meeting, the state Government Accountability

    Board voted unanimously to assert it has the authority to rewrite rules governing electioneering by special interest groups. The board has signaled it intends to act.

    Let’s hope and pray it does. The sooner the better. The board’s next meeting is November 11.


    Mike McCabe is executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan government watchdog group. WDC’s web site is www.wisdc.org.

    Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

    Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

    No posts to display