Advocates of campaign finance reform insist they don't intend to curtail free political speech. They merely want to regulate the spending of money.
Right. Cue the March of the Hypocrites, led by that drum major of fatuous righteousness himself, Mike McCabe.
In a move that pushed the boundaries of 'reform,' McCabe and his group, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, filed a complaint against the Madison Diocese for urging local Catholics to vote for the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. McCabe and Co. wanted the Catholic Church to be forced to register its efforts with the state Elections Board and report its contributions and expenditures.
Never mind that the church was communicating with its own members about a matter of faith and morals. Forget the whole matter of the First Amendment and its guarantee of the free exercise of religion. McCabe's group wanted the government to regulate and limit religious speech.
Besides its heavy-handed invocation of government power, the complaint from Wisconsin Democracy Campaign was notable for its selectivity. The group wasn't bothered by the church's opposition to a referendum supporting the death penalty, for example. Nor did it care that a number of churches are actively opposing the marriage amendment. No complaints were filed about these activities.
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's peculiar double standard becomes less mysterious when you realize that the group is hardly a neutral watchdog. Last June, it came out against the gay marriage amendment itself, urging a 'no' vote.
The goos-goos waxed almost lyrical in their indignation, declaring that the effort to ban gay marriage and civil unions by amending the state constitution 'does serious harm to the principles and institutions of democracy in Wisconsin, disrespects and disregards essential checks and balances in the policymaking process, and misuses the constitution for purposes that are neither legitimate nor in keeping with the intentions of the constitution's framers.'
Distorting and misusing the constitution is, after all, McCabe's own specialty, and he understandably resented the church's poaching on his territory.
Here is where the irony becomes especially poignant: Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which demands that the Catholic Church and others register and disclose their contributions and its expenditures, refuses to do the same itself.
Earlier this year, McCabe explained to Wispolitics.com that elected officials have to be held to a higher level of accountability than nonprofit citizen groups like his own. 'There will always be a different standard that has to be set,' he said. In other words, McCabe and his sanctimonious buds do not feel any reason to abide by the standards they set for others.
Translation: They are hypocrites. But they are hypocrites with an agenda.
McCabe and Wisconsin Democracy Campaign are bit players in the increasingly blatant use of campaign finance laws as a cudgel to punish and intimidate political opponents ' or muzzle them altogether.
In Seattle, campaign finance laws have been used to gag two radio-talk-show hosts who were urging the repeal of a 9.5-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase approved by the legislature. When the two hosts, Kirby Wilbur and John Carlson, began rallying support for what became known as Initiative 912, supporters of the tax increase hired a law firm to file a complaint against the two, alleging that their on-air speech should be covered by state campaign finance law. A judge actually ruled that their expression of opinion should be considered an 'in-kind' contribution.
'The plain legal meaning of [the] ruling,' says Carlson, 'is that Kirby Wilbur and I can no longer talk about Initiative 912.'
Like Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's complaint against the church, the complaint against Wilbur and Carlson was meant to send a chilling message: Get involved on the wrong side of a controversial issue and run the risk of being embroiled in a nasty legal tangle. It's much safer to keep your mouth shut.
Because it's all about protecting democracy, isn't it?
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign has also been the driving force behind efforts to strip GOP gubernatorial candidate Mark Green of more than $1.2 million of campaign money. Meanwhile, there is no evidence the group has issued a single press release on Jim Doyle since July, despite the governor's cascading pay-to-play scandals.
Hmmm, maybe McCabe and Co. are about something other than 'clean campaigns.'