February 8, 2010 2:20 PM
A couple of weeks ago the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion that will live in infamy. The Citizens United case obliterates a century of reform efforts to restrain the influence of money in politics.
Now, let's be honest with each other. It's not like our current system, before the Citizens United case, was anything to brag about. It was already far too easy for corporate money to find its way into uncontrollable third party advertisements. It's no secret, for example, that business interests essentially bought seats on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. It has gotten so bad that the Wisconsin State Journal is now on a campaign to eliminate Supreme Court elections altogether and replace them with a merit selection process. I don't know if I'd go that far, but the Citizens United ruling makes the State Journal proposal more intriguing than I once thought it was.
What does Citizens United mean for local elections? I don't know yet, but we're lucky that we've got a blue ribbon group of local citizens who can help us think through that very question. The Blue Ribbon Committee on Clean Elections chaired by UW Political Science Professor Ken Mayer and including former Governor Tony Earl, former Madison Mayor Joel Skornicka and respected political commentator Bill Kraus has been looking at a public finance system for Madison. Now I'll ask them to study the court decision and take it into account as they consider how to improve and protect our local process.
From the highest level of American government, democracy has been dealt a blow. At the most local level, we're going to find a way to limit the damage.