If there’s anything worse than an ungracious winner, it’s a bipartisan display of ungracious winning.
Political organizations One Wisconsin Now, which supports Democratic policies; and Wisconsin Club for Growth, which backs Republican initiatives, have joined forces to sue the state Government Accountability Board. They’re trying desperately to stop new campaign finance rules scheduled to take effect later this month — rules that would require the groups to divulge who’s paying for their ads around the time of an election.
Wait, just six months ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations and unions could spend freely on elections. That seemed to be a big victory for groups like OWN and WCG, whose coffers could grow exponentially in coming years as a result.
All the justices asked in return was disclosure. That’s a tiny price for such a major privilege, but it’s apparently too steep for these spoiled organizations.
Since the “Citizens United” Supreme Court decision, we have supported numerous efforts to uphold disclosure rules. If the goal of political advertising is to reach voters in their comfort zone — watching television, surfing the Internet or opening their mail — then groups should make it equally convenient for those voters to know who’s behind the message. It helps people to discern the motives behind that message.
Minnesota’s disclosure rules recently landed Target Corp. in the gay community’s crosshairs. When the store chain’s support of a gubernatorial candidate who has opposed gay rights legislation became public, it reportedly threatened the store chain’s prospects of expanding in California.
Whether that kind of criticism is fair, that’s an open question. But in no way do the rules that prompt it stifle free speech, as OWN and WCG are straining to spin this.
Free speech does not mean hidden speech without ramifications. Contributors who believe strongly enough in particular candidates to chip in toward these groups’ election ads must be willing to stand up publicly and take both the praise and the criticism.
The state’s disclosure policy should stand. While a small group of political insiders dwell on the anonymity they stand to lose, democracy can celebrate a clutch victory.