At the turn of the 20th century, Wisconsin government was rife with corruption. Big business and wealthy plutocrats controlled the politicians and thus controlled the government. They had their puppet politicians pass laws that benefited them regardless of who might be hurt by them.
This high level of corruption gave way to a progressive movement led by Fighting Bob LaFollette. LaFollette led the way to clean up the government, enacting laws that returned the government to the control of the people. He led the way to busting trusts, enacting election reforms and creating the Wisconsin Idea. The changes brought on by LaFollette and other progressives have well served the people of Wisconsin for over a 100 years.
Ironically, LaFollette was a Republican.
It's ironic because this week, modern day Republicans are in the process of removing the last remnants of LaFollette's legacy of good government.
This week, Scott Walker and his fellow Republicans have started pushing through three bills that would end good government.
The first bill would change campaign finance laws, opening the flood gates for dark money to come pouring in:
The legislation would double the amount of contributions that state and local candidates could receive from individuals, and would adjust that limit for inflation every five years.
Under the bill, political parties and legislative campaign committees could make unlimited donations to a candidate committee.
The bill would allow legislative campaign committees and political parties to receive unlimited contributions, with the exception of a $12,000 per year limit on PAC contributions to those committees and parties.
The legislation would allow unlimited contributions to be made to and transferred between political action committees. Recall committees and referendum committees could also receive unlimited funds, and unlimited funds could be donated to pay expenses related to a recall or recount. Candidates could also make unlimited personal contributions to their own committee.
The proposal would ban candidates from coordinating with outside groups on express advocacy — calls to vote "for or against" a candidate — but would place no restrictions on coordination on issue advocacy.
In an interesting twist and a brilliant maneuver, each and every Democrat recused themselves from the vote, pointing out that they have a conflict of interest because it would directly affect their own campaign committees. The Republicans were at a loss at having their blatant corruption and greed exposed like that, but not enough so to keep them from passing the bill anyway.
Now, obviously, by opening the flood gates for dark money like that, it also opens the door to even more corruption and ethics violations.
To deal with that, the Republicans are also set to dismantle the Government Accountability Board (GAB), a nonpartisan panel of former judges that investigate campaign finance and ethics violations. The Republicans want to replace the GAB with two partisan panels - one for campaign finance violations and one for ethics violations - each consisting of three Republicans and three Democrats. This will leave the committees at stalemates on almost every issue.
On top of that, each committee is given a very small budget to use to conduct their investigations. If the committee would need more money, they must ask the Joint Finance Committee for that extra funding. Of course, the Joint Finance Committee has a huge Republican majority, making it highly unlikely that they would approve any funding to investigate themselves.
It was this kind of set up that allowed the caucus scandals of fifteen years ago to happen. In that scandal, both parties were using their government offices as campaign machines, having government staff spending most of their time fundraising and performing other political operations.
As the gentle reader might have guessed, many of the people caught up in that scandal are also behind the legalization of corruption now.
The only and very small ray of hope is that it appears that some Republicans in the state senate haven't had their moral compasses totally destroyed and are balking at this measure.
Just in case the Republicans might have missed something that still might allow one of them to get caught with their hands in the dark money cookie jar, they added one another safeguard for their crimes - the killing of John Doe probes for political crimes. Walker, who was the subject of not one, but two, such probes, is very eager to get that on his desk before he gets subjected to a third investigation.
Now, there are probably lots of folks that are thinking what Wisconsin needs is another Fighting Bob LaFollette to come and restore good government. In a way they are right.
But what we really need here in Wisconsin is for us to realize that we are the next Bob LaFollette and reclaim our state.
Meanwhile, if you happen to be in Wisconsin, listen real carefully and you'll hear a whirring sound. That's Fighting Bob spinning in his grave.