I normally love some good old fashioned schadenfreude. The misery of people I don't like is supposed to make me happy. But I can't get any joy out of the release of a covert recording of Wisconsin Senate President Mike Ellis discussing illegal fundraising tactics.
First of all, it points to a sickness of our entire political system if Ellis, a Republican from Neenah who has a long history of championing campaign finance reform, is colluding with a super PAC.
Don't get me wrong. I, along with many other people in Madison, will be very happy if Ellis loses to Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber (D-Appleton) this fall, but he was someone I thought I could respect. Even if I disagree with Ellis on almost all issues, I've considered him to be an ethical person, excepting some notable cases of gavel abuse.
If you set up enough secret cameras in enough bars, you could catch tons of elected officials and candidates from all parties talking about violating campaign finance law. The Supreme Court's decision on Citizens United broke our already weak electoral process, and we will see it in videos like this or in laws that get rewritten for campaign donors.
Beyond that, I deplore anything produced by James O'Keefe. He is the conservative film-flam man who has used misleadingly edited video to take down the liberal group ACORN and various National Public Radio officials. O'Keefe calls himself a journalist, which should be taken about as seriously as if I called myself a nuclear physicist. A better title for him would be special effects artist. Any journalist working for a real news source would get fired for the one-sided, out-of-context clips (including the Ellis video) he uses.
What is most disturbing to me is that O'Keefe and his funders have decided to go after Ellis, an occasionally independent Republican. Is this punishment for Ellis's votes to preserve Common Core in Wisconsin? Is this a warning of what happens to conservatives who don't toe the party line 100% of the time?
Stories like this make me scared about the future of political discourse in Wisconsin, where super PACs are all but a necessity and fake news organizations set the tone of discourse.
In this case, the Ellis clip may help the Democrats in their attempt to win a Senate seat. And so may win a battle in November, but we are all losing the war.