Disclaimers
Examples of election literature and advertisements created by local groups in Wisconsin—some can easily run afoul of election rules by not having transparent disclosure language or not having registered as a political group.

It may mean voting in a new direction sometimes, but democracy only works if we don’t reward the authoritarian wannabes.

It sounds difficult in this divided age, but if you can strip away all of the traditional partisan differences between conservatives, liberals, moderates, libertarians, and other sub-groups, you’ll usually see this much in common: There should be rules, and rules should be followed. That’s the difference between democracy and autocracy. But consider the following.

During the presidential administration of the former guy—with Republicans in charge of the US Senate—the Federal Election Commission often couldn’t meet to enforce campaign laws because not enough members had been confirmed to form a quorum.

In Madison, Wisconsin Republicans gutted the independent and widely-praised Government Accountability Board—and replaced it with a Wisconsin Elections Commission that often deadlocks due to its makeup of five Republicans and five Democrats. It was set up to be toothless.

Conservatives on the US Supreme Court have given us the Citizens United decision—that opened the floodgates to dirty money in campaigns—and ongoing weakening of the Voting Rights Act. 

With all of that as a background, it might seem a case of small potatoes to talk about the role of political groups in Wisconsin’s local elections this week, but a surprising number feature new, little known, or downright mysterious groups communicating with voters. Their material either has no disclosure information or fails to disclose key information—such as whether they’ve made financial donations to candidates. 

This isn’t something nitpicky. It’s at the heart of honest political discourse. Politics may be considered “cloak and dagger,” but voters deserve a minimal number of cloaks—and to know who’s throwing the daggers.

State Democratic Party chair Ben Wikler provided several recent examples from conservative groups as fodder for a likely complaint to be sent to the Wisconsin Ethics Commission.  And rightly so. An uncomfortable number of Americans are getting cozy with autocratic behavior and a willingness to tolerate or encourage cheating—something that will only grow if rulebreakers aren’t held accountable.

That doesn’t apply only to commissions and courts. Voters have to do their part to hold cheaters accountable, even if it means voting in a new direction—at least temporarily—to send a message. Everyone wants to win. Everyone should want to win fairly—and govern fairly, in a way that makes our predecessors proud.