Additional Remarks on Article 6a “Even Locally, Campaign Finance Gives Pause for Thought”
(which appeared in the April 4, 2011 Dunn’s Marsh Neighborhood e-News)
A response from a reader of the e-News prompts me to add to the article that is referenced above about campaign finance. (Skip down to the fourth paragraph if you remember the article.)
In general, the article was about how campaign finance has been a hot issue since the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that corporations must be treated as if they were persons when it comes to financing electoral campaigns.
This led to a brief discussion in the article about the referenda that are on today’s ballot. Both a Madison and a Dane County referendum let voters express their opinion about whether the U.S. Constitution should be amended to state that only human beings, not corporations, are entitled to constitutional rights and to establish that regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting freedom of political speech.
An issue that many people have with the Supreme Court decision is that under the Court ruling it can be very difficult to know who is funding campaigns. I then stated that “Knowing who contributes to a campaign and how much they give, might help with making a decision in the voting booth.”
At the end of the article, I looked at campaign finance reports from an aldermanic election in Fitchburg to show how knowing about the funding might help a voter decide how to vote. The reader suggested that I might want to disclose that I am the campaign treasurer for one of the candidates, Dorothy Krause.
I replied positively. In fact, I noted that in preparing to write the article, I had thought of starting the article with that information, but when I widened the subject to focus first on the Supreme Court decision, I did not include it.
Of course, the facts from the 2 candidates’ campaign reports remain the same, regardless of this additional information.
I would also like to say that there are two other reasons for not including the fact that I am the treasurer for Dorothy Krause’s campaign. One is that I thought that this knowledge could perhaps sway voters since I am well-known to readers of the e-News.
A second reason is that I did not want anyone think that the neighborhood association was endorsing her – or any candidate. The bylaws of the DMNA do not permit the Association to endorse candidates.
This does not prevent individuals who are members of the DMNA or members of the DMNA Council from endorsing whomever they wish to endorse (or oppose) as long as they don’t give the impression that they are or might be speaking for the DMNA.
The DMNA has not endorsed any candidate in this or any other race during this election or any past election. The Association may take positions on issues and lobby as hard as it is able to on those issues.
You might ask why this information is coming to you so late on election day. A couple of reasons. First, I didn’t see the message until about 8:30 pm last night, and I like to give myself a chance to think before I respond in a public forum. Second, I served as an election official from 6:00 am until after 1:00 pm today, then needed to vote at my own polls, and then have some lunch. And finally, it does take time to write.
Oh, and by the way, I probably never would have in my life looked at a campaign finance report if I hadn’t had to file reports as treasurer in a campaign. I took on the job reluctantly since I am already way too busy: the tipping point was that I looked on the job as a learning experience. I’ll tell you that Wisconsin does expect a lot of good record-keeping, and I think that’s good. The laws are in place to assure that candidates have a fair contest. They are available to the public for the mere asking. That’s what open government is about.
So, as long as I was turning in a report, I thought it would be interesting to look at the report of the opposing candidate. When I turned in the March 21 report on the deadline date, I also filed an open records request for the other candidate. I am always full of curiosity.
And that, in a nutshell, is how this part of the article even had a chance of seeing the light of day.
OK, enough of this. For those of you who want to reread the original article, it’s included below.
6a - Even Locally, Campaign Finance Gives Pause for Thought
[originally in the 4-4-11 Dunn’s Marsh Neighborhood e-News)
Is a corporation a person? Is money (free) speech? Who should be able to contribute to a campaign? How much should they be able to contribute? How much should they or the campaign have to divulge about their contributors?
These are issues that float up to the surface during every political campaign, or it might be more accurate to say that sometimes they explode like fireworks or bombs. Funding a campaign is a nightmare or at least the substance for anxiety or bad dreams for the candidates. It’s like a horserace, perhaps, to an impartial onlooker. The rules are laid out in campaign finance law and the handbooks that go to a campaign treasurer.
A big dust storm has been raised by the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that declared that corporations are to be treated like persons for campaign finance. Madison voters will have 2 chances to say how they feel about that decision. Both Dane County and the City of Madison have a referendum on the ballot. Those referenda ask if the U.S. Constitution should be amended to state that only human beings, not corporations, are entitled to constitutional rights and to establish that regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting freedom of political speech.
A YES vote means the voter agrees that an amendment is needed to establish that a corporation isn’t a person. A NO vote suggests that the voter may agree with the Supreme Court decision or just doesn’t think we should mess with the constitution for an issue like this. Part of the argument for a YES vote has been that during this election – and all future elections unless the law is changed - that it’s difficult to know who is funding campaigns. Knowing who is supporting a candidate can be important in deciding which messages to believe or deciding which candidate to support.
Does this affect our most local elections of all – the aldermanic elections? Well, knowing who contributes to a campaign and how much they give might help with making a decision in the voting booth.
Let’s take a case in point, the District 1, Seat 1 alder election in Fitchburg. The two candidates are Kevin Peterson and Dorothy Krause.
A look at their campaign reports reveals that both have raised about $1,100. So in this regard, they are running neck to neck. This figure is from the most recent reporting period which ended March 21, 2011.
But what else can one learn from their reports?
First of all, they have different numbers of contributors. Mr. Peterson had 10 contributors, and the highest 2 contributors each gave $250 each, while the lowest contributors gave $25. Ms. Krause had 19 contributors, with the highest 2 individuals contributing $100 each, and the lowest giving $10.
Secondly, one might look at who the contributors are since all local campaign contributors who give more than $20 must be named and their addresses given. Those giving over $100 must also list their employer and the employer’s address.
Here’s where more differences emerge. Since Dorothy Krause had no individual contributors giving more than $100, their employers aren’t known. However, Progressive Dane, a political committee, did contribute $200 to her campaign.
Kevin Peterson’s two biggest contributors were retired and thus did not have to give an employer. Another big contributor is the president of Brown Sales, a contract sewing company in Fitchburg, while the fourth is in the banking business at the Oak Bank in Fitchburg.
Other Peterson contributors, although their employers aren’t given, are well-known names to residents of Madison or Fitchburg, since they are in real estate, development, or banking in the area.
For information about the content of their candidacy, one can always consult the League of Women Voters Candidates Answers at http://www.lwvdanecounty.org/content/fitchburg-alder
by Mary Mullen