Last week at the Center for Media and Democracy, their general counsel Brendan Fischer warned "Darkness descends upon Wisconsin." Today, on The BradCast, Fischer joins me to explain the three new pieces of legislation being quickly rammed through the Republican-dominated state legislature in the Badger State, which, taken together, are set to serve an unprecedented blow to transparency, elections, and democracy. (Audio link to complete show follows below.)
Formerly, one of the most transparent states for election oversight and the ability to either prevent corruption or, at least, discover it and hold those accountable for it after it is found, WI is now set to become the very opposite unless something happens to prevent this full package of election reform bills from being enacted. Yes. Darkness descends upon Wisconsin and, frankly, the rest of the nation if these laws are all passed and signed by Gov. Scott Walker (R-Koch) expected.
One of the bills has already been adopted by the legislature and was hastily signed over the weekend by Walker. That one bars state prosecutors from investigating political corruption under the state's "John Doe" provisions. A WI John Doe investigation is akin to a grand jury process, but allows prosecutors to carry out criminal probes under the auspices of a state court. Such investigations in the past, for example, resulted in the conviction of six top aides and allies to Walker. A more recent John Doe probe into illegal campaign coordination between the Governor and his Koch Brothers-funded allies during the 2012 recall elections in WI, was shut down earlier this year by the same state Supreme Court justices elected and funded by those very same Koch Brothers-funded groups who stand to benefit from this entire package of "reform".
The other two bills were passed in the Assembly last week and are now pending in the state Senate. One replaces the state's non-partisan Government Accountability Board (G.A.B.) --- the commission of retired judges convened to oversees state elections following a massive campaign finance scandal by both Dems and Republicans (uncovered by a John Doe probe!) back in 2007 --- with a new commission of partisan appointees modeled after (incredibly enough!) the entirely broken Federal Elections Commission!
Finally, saving the worst for last: The last of these three bills would allow unlimited undisclosed financing of political groups and campaigns in Wisconsin, as well as allow the millionaire and billionaire funders of those campaigns to remain completely secret to everyone but the candidate whose campaigns the funders would be supporting with unlimited cash payments!
"This is not something that voters in Wisconsin are calling for, neither Republicans nor Democrats," Fischer explains. "The only groups lobbying in favor of these three bills are the Koch Brothers' Americans for Prosperity and other organizations with deep ties to Americans for Prosperity and Koch-tied groups. It's almost like a wish list of the Koch Brothers or other wealthy billionaires who want even more influence in elections."
"It's going to allow unlimited money from billionaires and corporations to political parties and legislative leaders. It's going to allow unlimited coordination between candidates and dark money groups," he tells me. "The implication of that is a candidate could form a non-profit group --- even have it operated out of its campaign headquarters --- and politicians can say to donors: 'Give to this dark money group I am working with. You can give as much as you want.' It can come from anywhere. It can come from Koch Industries corporate treasury. The money could even come from foreigners and the politician is going to know where the money is coming but the public will not."
And, of course, the existing non-partisan commission meant to oversee elections won't be able to block it (because they likely will not exist) and if there is anything left that is still illegal in such campaigns, state prosecutors will have much of their ability taken from them to be able to investigate it. It's a breathtaking set of reforms that, arguably, makes Walker's gutting of collective bargaining back in 2010 look like child's play. And all of this legislation and its provisions are being watched very closely by the GOP nationally, as this gutting of democracy is exactly what the party now hopes to see in every state, as well as at the federal level. Citizens United was not even the beginning of their scheming to undermine fairness and transparency in elections and campaigns.
Fischer goes on to note that, "with rightwing Republicans in control of a lot of state legislatures," similar "reform" is likely to be pushed forward elsewhere after it takes effect in WI, "even though it's not voters who are calling for it."
Please listen to today's program and pass it along to others! This matter needs a lot more national attention than it is currently receiving!
Also on today's program: Death and destruction over the weekend from Oklahoma to British Columbia to Pakistan and Afghanistan, even as Mexico and the U.S. may have dodged a bullet, of sorts, after the most powerful hurricane on record barreled ashore as a Category 5 storm.
Download MP3 or listen to complete show online below...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)