The Common Cause Forum, 4/28/08
Here's how it went down:
And despite my disagreements with virtually everyone in the room on this issue (except Mayer, apparently,) everyone was extremely welcoming and pleasant. In fact, they were so interested in what I had to say, they asked me every question during the crowd Q&A period.
Ellis and Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said they hope to pass legislation that would limit the amount of money interest groups are allowed to spend on political campaigns. The bill would require disclosure by advertising groups on how much they are spending and where the funds come from.
Heck said legislation on campaign finance reform could easily pass, except legislative leaders are “philosophically opposed” to the idea and would not bring the issue to light.
But according to panelist Christian Schneider, a fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, there is strong ground for opposition to Ellis and Erpenbach’s campaign finance reform because of the right to freedom of expression.
“If the First Amendment is meant for anything, it is to protect unpopular political opinions,” Schneider said. “It is condescending to voters to say, ‘You’re not smart enough to see through negative television advertisements.’”
Schneider added negative advertisements can bring harsh truths to light and often increase voter turnout by making voters more interested and invested in campaign issues.
However, Erpenbach and Ellis were quick to defend their campaign finance reform legislation from Schneider’s attacks.
“I do believe firmly in the First Amendment,” Erpenbach said. “I think everybody has the right to free speech — but you can’t go into a crowded theater and yell ‘fire.’”
Erpenbach added huge contributions collected by special interest groups can mute individual opposition voices.
But Ken Mayer, UW political science professor, questioned Erpenbach’s idea of campaign finance reform as a shield to defend the individual opposition voices.
“I’m a little uncomfortable with this idea of using government power to redistribute funds,” Mayer said. “There is no reason to punish those with more money.”
From what I understand, video of the event will be available on WisconsinEye at some point. I'll post it when it goes up so you can see me spar with Ellis and Erpenbach.