Thursday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to allow corporations to spend what they choose on election campaigns could take the teeth out of the lobbying business in Wisconsin.
Lobbyists have traditionally been hired by businesses to talk elected officials into backing bills that benefit the corporate bottom line.
But there won’t be much need for lobbyists in the brave new world of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’ imagination.
“This opens the floodgates to a degree,” says Common Cause in Wisconsin director Jay Heck. “There will be much more outside spending by corporations.”
At the same time, Madison attorney Mike Wittenwyler suggests, there will probably be less lobbying.
Because from here on out, corporations will be able to buy legislators before they are even sworn in. And legislators won’t dare step out of line, since the threat of unlimited corporate campaign spending being unleashed against them should be enough to curb any penchant to engage in ethical or responsible behavior.
And what of the public interest? It won’t stand a chance — not in John Roberts’ America.
And this is not just about the U.S. House or Senate, or even the presidency. The court’s lawless ruling will be felt in Wisconsin, a state that has always prided itself on doing more than other states to keep corporate money from warping politics and governance. Wisconsin has, since 1906, banned corporations from raiding their treasuries to pay for ads that urge the election or defeat of candidates.
That law, enacted in the progressive era, kept Wisconsin’s politics clean for generations.
But Roberts did not want Wisconsin to continue to enjoy clean elections or clean government. So the chief justice wrote his own law. There was no precedent for it, no legal standing. Roberts and the four other justices who sided with corporate power just did as they chose.
That was bad for America, but it was especially bad for Wisconsin.
State Sen. Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, an honest conservative, decried the Supreme Court’s meddling after the details of the ruling were made public. “It’s a sad day for democracy,” says Ellis.
And it is even sadder because Roberts’ ruling undermines the ability of honest legislators in Wisconsin to renew and extend the state’s clean elections and good government traditions.
Wisconsin once had the cleanest politics and government in America. That has not been so in recent years, as special-interest groups have abused the political process with attack ads paid for by undisclosed sources. But Ellis and state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Waunakee, had been leading the Legislature to address the abuses.
It will be harder now.
John Roberts and the judicial-activist majority on the Supreme Court want to impose their version of “democracy.” It is a version in which corporations set the tune and politicians dance to it. We the people should object, and that objection should be sounded loudest from Wisconsin — a state that has always believed that democracy belonged to the people.
John Nichols is the associate editor of The Capital Times. email@example.com