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EDITORIAL: We should know who's trying to buy our votes
[October 31, 2010]

EDITORIAL: We should know who's trying to buy our votes

Oct 31, 2010 (The Leader-Telegram - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- In only two days, the din will finally cease.

The political advertisements that insult candidates -- and often the viewers' intelligence -- will vanish. The phone calls will fall silent. The glossy fliers will cease their march toward our mailboxes.

On Election Day, the voters will pick winners and the electioneering will mercifully cease.

Much of this advertising assault comes from the candidates themselves. Say what you will about such advertisements, but at least their sources of funding are clear. Direct donations to candidates are a matter of public record, and citizens can discover with relative ease who is paying the piper (and presumably calling the tune).

But in many cases in Wisconsin, the messages of the candidates themselves are overshadowed by expenditures from "independent" political groups that flood the arena with often-unaccountable cash. Those seeking office become pawns and bystanders in their own elections.

Every two years, the problem worsens, in part because money, like water, will find its way through any crack; in part because of a disastrous U.S. Supreme Court ruling. As of last week, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign -- an independent government watchdog group -- had counted 43 entities running ads to influence Tuesday's state-level elections (and that doesn't include groups taking part in federal races). Some of these groups have names that are self-explanatory (the Republican Governors Association, for instance). Most, however, have vague names such as Building a Stronger Wisconsin, American Federation for Children or Jobs First Coalition, that hide their true identities and agendas.

At last count, these 43 groups had spent at least $9.3 million trying to influence voters, said Mike McCabe, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's executive director. However, the total is probably millions higher because some groups are able to use legal loopholes to avoid disclosing the sources of their money or how much of it they are using to buy our votes. For example, a pro-Democratic group, Advancing Wisconsin, must report what it spends, but all of its income comes from Advancing Wisconsin Inc. -- an arrangement that protects donor anonymity.

"It is effectively legalized money laundering," McCabe said. "That's what the Supreme Court gave us." The court's January decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission opened the floodgates for general treasury funds from businesses, unions and nonprofit groups to be used to directly advocate the election or defeat of candidates without mandating disclosure of where the money is coming from.

It doesn't have to be this way. Congress and the state Legislature must prioritize passing disclosure legislation that requires donors -- whatever their ideology or legal structure -- to reveal their identities. If outside groups are going to try to buy our votes, at least we should know who the bidders are.

- Tom Giffey, editorial page editor The issue: Anonymous independent groups are spending millions trying to influence elections.

Our view: Congress and the state Legislature must strengthen disclosure requirements so we know these groups' identities and agendas.

To see more of The Leader-Telegram or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2010, The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit, e-mail, or call 866-280-5210 (outside the United States, call +1 312-222-4544).

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