The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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April 14, 2000 Issue
Local News

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 political debates?

-- 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 public financing.

"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 insights."

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.



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