WDC to Broadcasters: Let ‘Em All Debate

September 19, 2002

Madison - The Wisconsin Broadcasters Association should reconsider the eligibility criteria it has established for participation in the gubernatorial debate the association plans to sponsor, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign said today.

In a letter to WBA president John Laabs, Democracy Campaign executive director Mike McCabe criticized the broadcasters’ requirement that a candidate receive at least 6% of the total votes for governor cast statewide in the September 10 primary election in order ‘to participate in the debate.

McCabe called the 6% threshold an "arbitrary barrier established by the two major political parties to prevent third-party or independent candidates from qualifying for public financing grants that would allow them to seriously compete with major-party candidates. It is good for the two major parties, but it is bad for voters."

He added, "I seriously doubt that Brett Favre could win 6% of the total vote statewide running as a third-party candidate in a primary system that does not allow cross-party voting."

The letter to Laabs noted that the Democracy Campaign has proposed lowering the threshold needed to qualify for public financing from the current 6% down to 2%. Democrats and Republicans in both houses opposed the change in the last legislative session, McCabe said.

He also criticized the broadcasters’ requirement that candidates raise at least $53,910 in campaign contributions to be eligible to participate in the debate.

"This is particularly offensive in a state where Bill Proxmire became a legend running successful statewide campaigns for $200 or $300," McCabe wrote. "Candidates should not have to pay an admission fee to enter the public square and debate the issues with their opponents."

The letter calls on the broadcasters association to rethink its position on debate eligibility, saying the group "should err on the side of allowing voters to hear the widest possible range of views expressed by the most diverse collection of candidates possible."

Letter

September 18, 2002

John Laabs, President
Wisconsin Broadcasters Association
44 East Mifflin Street, Suite 900
Madison, WI 53703

Dear Mr. Laabs:

I am writing to express the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s strong objection to the criteria the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Foundation has established for participation in the gubernatorial debate you plan to sponsor.

One especially objectionable standard you've set is that a candidate must have received at least 6% of the total votes cast for the office of governor in the September 10 primary election. It is disappointing that Wisconsin’s broadcasters are embracing the 6% threshold - an arbitrary barrier established by the two major political parties to prevent third-party or independent candidates from qualifying for public financing grants that would allow them to seriously compete with major-party candidates. I seriously doubt that Brett Favre could win 6% of the total vote statewide running as a third-party candidate in a primary system that does not allow cross-party voting. This threshold is nothing but a calculated means to maintain two-party dominance. It is good for the two major parties, but it is bad for the voters. Your association should not give the major parties’ anti-competitive maneuvering its stamp of approval.

In the last legislative session, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign joined with 46 other public interest advocacy groups to advance the Voters First campaign finance reform plan. Among its many provisions was a proposal to lower the threshold needed to qualify for public financing from the current 6% down to 2%. It is worth noting that if a 2% threshold were the law of the land in Wisconsin, Ed Thompson would qualify for public financing and would be eligible to participate in your debate. Because the 6% threshold has proven so effective in preventing just this sort of thing, it should come as no surprise that our 2% provision was among the first stricken from the Voters First bill in both houses.

Another one of your association’s criteria requires candidates to meet a fundraising threshold of at least $53,910 in campaign contributions to be eligible to participate in the debate. This is particularly offensive in a state where Bill Proxmire became a legend running successful statewide campaigns for $200 or $300. Candidates should not have to pay an admission fee to enter the public square and debate the issues with their opponents.

We urge you to reconsider the eligibility criteria you've established for your debate. We believe your current criteria are unduly restrictive and place the interests of the two major political parties above the interests of the voters. We believe if you err, you should err on the side of allowing voters to hear the widest possible range of views expressed by the most diverse collection of candidates possible.

Thank you for your consideration of our concerns. Let me know if you have questions or desire further input on this matter.

Sincerely,

Mike McCabe
Executive Director