State bishops revise campaign finance draft statement
New draft retains message of old, but is more direct
Wisconsin's Roman Catholic bishops authorized release of a
revised draft statement on campaign finance reform and invited
additional comment from Catholics and others. They will review
the revised draft and reaction later this year.
The statement, "Renewing Participation in Public Life," is not
significantly different from the first draft. Like the first
draft, the revision suggests that campaign finance laws be
evaluated in terms of their impact on the process and not
individual candidates or political parties.
"Specifically, campaign finance reforms should serve to increase
citizen participation in the political process, to foster
consideration of the common good over particular 'special'
interests, and to make voters more in-formed about the
candidates, including the sources of their financial support,"
the statement says.
The first draft statement was released in June and was shared
with the media, legislators and Catholic leaders around the
country. The statement was featured in The New York Times, Our
Sunday Visitor and other forums.
The revised draft is simpler and more direct in tone. It also
discusses in more depth the problems associated with negative
campaigning arguing that negative campaigning decreases voter
participation. The draft also suggests that at times, extensive
negative advertising by independent groups overshadows the
messages of the candidates themselves.
"Perhaps most important, negative ads inhibit the ability of
those who are elected to lead," the statement suggests. "In
recent years, the ill will spawned by campaign rhetoric seems to
linger past the election season. As a result, bi-partisan
cooperation has become more difficult and leaders are less
willing to offer solutions on controversial issues."
Like the first draft, the revision does not endorse any specific
reform proposal, but offers criteria from Catholic ethical and
social teachings as a basis to evaluate reform proposals:
-- Do the reforms expand or deny access by citizens of average
financial means to the political process as candidates?
-- Do the reforms foster increased citizen participation in
campaigns as volunteers and encourage higher voter turnout?
-- Do the proposed reforms reduce or increase the potential for a
small number of powerful interests to dominate or distort
-- Do the proposed reforms enhance or limit public awareness of
who makes campaign statements or finances campaign advertising?
The draft reaffirms that public financing can be an appropriate
way to fund most election costs, but does not call for total
"Government is the means by which society seeks to identify,
achieve, and protect the common good. As this is a concern for
all people, it is appropriate that the cost of doing so be shared
by all," the draft says. "To the extent that public financing
makes candidates less dependent on the funds of special interest
groups, the public debates over issue will be less subject to
domination or distortion by those interests."
The revised statement also retains language in the first draft
regarding the regulation of campaign expenditures by groups other
than candidates. The revised draft suggests that regulation of
this kind does not automatically inhibit free speech. However,
the draft suggests that such regulation should focus on the issue
of disclosure of spending sources as opposed to limiting the
content of the message.
The release of the revised draft comes as news stories report on
the effect of campaign donations on legislative activity and
mounting criticism of the legislature's failure to address many
serious issues. In addition, the Wisconsin Counties Association
has announced an initiative to place a referendum on campaign
finance reform on the November ballot in all 72 counties.
The bishops recognize that campaign finance reform is an
important issue that will not be resolved in the near future,"
said John Huebscher, WCC executive director. "They want to take
the time to craft a statement that makes a strong contribution to
the debate. They also found the comments to date very helpful and
want to give people an additional opportunity to share their
To read the entire draft or comment on the statement write the
Wisconsin Catholic Conference at 30 W. Mifflin St., #302 Madison,
WI 53703, or visit the WCC web site at http://www.wisconsincatholic.com.