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Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign

Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign

Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a non-partisan nonprofit political watchdog group now in it's third decade of working for clean, open and honest government and reforms that make people matter more than money in politics.
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, 203 South Paterson Street, Suite 100, Madison, WI 53703-3689, 608-255-4260

$42 Million Reasons Walker Goes Easy on Polluters

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Friday, 20 May 2016
in Wisconsin

walkerMADISON - One thing we like to do here at the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign is to amplify the work of other fine nonprofits and enterprising reporters.

This week offered us three opportunities to do just that.

When the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation came out with a report showing that the enforcement of DNR regulations was at a 30-year low, we showed all the money that polluters have given to Walker & Company:

(1) Walker has $42 million reasons to reduce pollution enforcement

And when our friends over at WisPIRG put out a report on payday lenders, showing that they’re charging a whopping 585 percent interest, we showed how  the payday lenders throw their money around.. Note: Walker and Majority Leader Fitzgerald and the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee got the most, but two Democratic committees also got fat checks, as you’ll see here:

(2) Payday lenders gave $339K in Wisconsin for usury

And when Molly Beck at the Wisconsin State Journal revealed that a former Republican legislator got an $80 million contract from the Walker administration, we revealed the money trail here, too:

(3) Former GOP lawmaker and Walker contributor gets state testing contract

These are prime examples of how money is contaminating our politics in Wisconsin right now.

But I’m not pessimistic. I was in a federal courtroom this week in Madison hearing the powerful challenge to the Voter ID law brought by One Wisconsin Now. And next week, there’s another promising court challenge—this one, regarding the partisan manipulation of electoral maps. The lawsuit establishes a nonpartisan yardstick for measuring whether one party is taking undue advantage over another in the drawing of district maps.

I believe we’re going to win both of these cases, which will start giving democracy a chance again in Wisconsin.

Best,

Matt Rothschild
Executive Director

P.S. Please support this urgent work we’re doing by sending us a tax-deductible gift today. Simply click here. We really appreciate it!

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On John Doe, DAs Deserve Our Thanks!

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Sunday, 01 May 2016
in Wisconsin

john-chisolmMADISON - The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign thanks the courageous district attorneys John Chisholm, Ismael Ozanne, and Larry Nelson for appealing the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision in the John Doe II case to the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday.

While the details of their appeal have not been made public yet, there are two solid grounds for the appeal.

The first is that at least a couple of the justices should have recused themselves from the John Doe case because of a conflict of interest.

The four justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court who dismissed the John Doe investigation concerning alleged coordination between Scott Walker and so-called outside groups were aided enormously by some of the very groups that were party to the John Doe case.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Wisconsin Club for Growth, and Citizens for a Strong America—all of which were reportedly embroiled in the John Doe--together spent more than $8 million in support of Justice Patience Roggensack, Justice Annette Ziegler, Justice Michael Gableman, and Justice David Prosser.

ismael-ozanne-daThe second, and even more crucial, basis for an appeal is the fact that the Wisconsin Supreme Court blatantly misread forty years of U.S. Supreme Court precedent on campaign finance.

In tossing out the John Doe II case, the Wisconsin Supreme Court said that the First Amendment prohibits the state of Wisconsin from imposing a ban on coordination between candidates and issue advocacy groups. But dating back to Buckley v. Valeo in 1976 and right on through Citizens United of 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court campaign finance decisions have been predicated on there being no coordination between candidates and issue advocacy groups.

In Buckley, the court ruled that expenditures by outside groups that are coordinated with candidates amount to campaign contributions. “The ultimate effect is the same as if the person had contributed the dollar amount to the candidate and the candidate had then used the contribution,” the court ruled. Such expenditures, it said, should be “treated as contributions rather than expenditures.”

Only the lack of coordination reduces the risk of corruption, the Court stressed in Buckley. “The absence of prearrangement and coordination of an expenditure with the candidate or his agent . . . alleviates the danger that expenditures will be given as a quid pro quo for improper commitments from the candidates.”

larry-nelson-daEven in its infamous Citizens United decision, which allowed independent groups to spend unlimited amounts of money, the U.S Supreme Court stressed that such groups had to be independent; they couldn’t coordinate with their favored candidates: “By definition, an independent expenditure is political speech presented to the electorate that is not coordinated with a candidate.”

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that line. He will be the crucial vote in this case, assuming that the U.S. Supreme Court hears it. And if Justice Kennedy stands by his own reasoning in Citizens United, the district attorneys have an excellent chance of prevailing and getting the John Doe II decision overturned.

That would be a tremendous outcome because unless the John Doe II decision is overturned, we will have little hope in Wisconsin of limiting the corrupting influence of dark money over our politics.

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Prisoners and the Right to Vote

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Friday, 15 April 2016
in Wisconsin

jail-prisonMADISON - On Tuesday, I went to UW-Milwaukee to give a lecture about an under-appreciated aspect of our undemocratic system: the disenfranchisement of prisoners and former prisoners. In researching this talk, I discovered just how blatantly racist the policy has always been:

Felon disenfranchisement, then and now

In our never-ending sorrow at the demise of the Government Accountability Board, our worst fears have been confirmed: Partisans from both sides are being appointed to the new state ethics and elections commissions. This week, it was Peter Barca’s turn:

Barca’s appointees contributed $107K to Democrats

And as we look back at the legislative session, one hypocrisy jumped out at us. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce talks all the time about the need for a highly educated workforce, but it didn’t put any of its money where its mouth is:

WMC, business groups AWOL on higher ed bills

Two announcements:

--If you’re in Madison at the Dane County Farmers' Market on Saturday, please stop by our booth at the southwest corner of the Square (W Main and S Hamilton Sts. across from Inn on the Park). I’ll be there with Madison activist Bert Zipperer from 8:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. {Reminder: there is road construction on the northside of the Square}

--And if you’re in the Sun Prairie area Saturday afternoon, the Sun Prairie Action Resource Coalition (SPARC) will host a public meeting from 12-3 pm at the Westside Community Service Building at 2598 W. Main St. I'll be speaking around 2 p.m. Topic: “The Assault on Democracy in Wisconsin” (or, “Where Do I Start?”).

Hope to see you soon.

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Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and the Supreme Court Race

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 30 March 2016
in Wisconsin

rebecca-bradleyMADISON - For the past few months, we’ve been checking, almost every day, to see when Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce was going to start spending money on behalf of Judge Rebecca Bradley in her race against Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg for the Wisconsin Supreme Court. But we’ve found nothing, which is very puzzling.

One answer to the puzzle may be that WMC is funneling its dough through a dark-money group, as we discuss here:

joanne-kloppenburgIs WMC hiding its $$ in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race?

For a look at all the independent groups, including PACs and bogus “issue ad” groups, that are throwing money around in this race on both sides, just click here:

Hijacking Campaign 2016 updated with new independent spending

And for a look at the biggest individual donors to both candidates, check out this posting:

GOP, Democratic donors continue to give big to high-court candidates

Aside from this Supreme Court contest, and the Presidential race, there is one other important bit of balloting on April 5: In 11 communities in Wisconsin, citizens can vote on referendums to amend the U.S. Constitution to proclaim that corporations aren’t persons and money is not speech. See if your community is on the list here:

Vote to overturn Citizens United on April 5 in Wisconsin!

In any case, please vote in this election. You can still do early voting, also known as in-person absentee voting, this week at your city clerk’s office. Early voting closes at 5 p.m. or the close of business for the municipal clerk (whichever is later) on Friday. Or please show up at your regular polling place on Tuesday. And if you don’t know where that is, just fill out your address here:

https://myvote.wi.gov/Address/AddressSearchScreen.aspx

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Pro-pollution Bills Push Wisconsin Backwards

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Friday, 25 March 2016
in Wisconsin

walkerScott Walker signs the last of the nasty bills that Speaker Vos and Majority Leader Fitzgerald plopped on his desk, and Wisconsin keeps going backwards.


MADISON - We’re still waiting to see whether Scott Walker signs the last of the nasty bills that Speaker Vos and Majority Leader Fitzgerald plopped on his desk.

Here’s one of them:

Bill to ease sulfur dioxide pollution enforcement goes to Walker

Speaking of pollution, Tuesday was World Water Day, and Wisconsin keeps going backwards as far as protecting this vital resource goes, as we noted here:

Wisconsin all wet on World Water Day

For the big Wisconsin Supreme Court race on April 5, we just updated our files on the outside groups that are throwing their money around:

Hijacking Campaign 2016 updated with new PAC and issue ad group activity

And I’m still very concerned about the John Doe II appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, so I wrote the following open letter to the DAs involved:

Letter to DAs in John Doe II case appeal

I hope these postings interest you.

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See Me Next Week Near You

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Friday, 11 March 2016
in Wisconsin

wisconsindemocracycampaignMADISON - I’m going to be traveling all over the state next week, so I hope you can attend one of my events if you’re in Milwaukee, La Crosse, Eau Claire, Wausau, Green Bay, Appleton, Sheboygan, Waukesha, or Janesville.

The Milwaukee event is Thursday, March 17, and is sponsored by the Milwaukee Press Club and is onKeeping Public Records Public.” I’ll be on a panel with Attorney General Brad Schimel, so I may tangle with him a bit. The event is from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Lake Express High-Speed Ferry Terminal, 2330 S. Lincoln Memorial Drive.

The other events are all panels sponsored by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, and they deal with how to use the open records law. The Council has created Facebook event pages for each of the stops for those on Facebook who care to share them with others.

The stops and locations are listed here:

Day 1: Tuesday, March 15

2 pm: La Crosse
Local sponsor: La Crosse Tribune
Venue: La Crosse Public Library, 800 Main St.

7 pm: Eau Claire
Local sponsor: Eau Claire Leader-Telegram
Venue: UW-Eau Claire, Centennial Hall, Room 1614

Day 2: Wednesday, March 16

10 am: Wausau
Local sponsor: Wausau Daily Herald
Venue: Marathon County Public Library; 300 N. 1st St. Wausau

2 pm, Green Bay
Local sponsor: Green Bay Press-Gazette
Venue: Brown County Public Library, 515 Pine St., Green Bay

7:30 Appleton
Local sponsor: Appleton Post-Crescent
Venue: Appleton Public Library, 225 N Oneida St.

Day 3: Thursday, March 17

10 am, Sheboygan
Local sponsor: Sheboygan Press
Venue: Sheboygan Public Library, 710 N 8th St.

2 pm, Waukesha
Local sponsor: Schott, Bublitz and Engel, S.C.
Venue: Waukesha Public Library, 321 W Wisconsin Ave.

7 pm, Janesville
Local sponsor: Janesville Gazette
Venue: Blackhawk Technical College. 6004 S. County G, Janesville, Room 1400B

I hope to see you at one of these events, before I wear out!

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Beating Back Walker's Counterrevolution

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Friday, 04 March 2016
in Wisconsin

scott-walker-MADISON - Last Friday night, I went over to Lake Mills to speak with a great local group called “Progressives Informed and Engaged.” (They’re acronym is PIE, and true to their name, they brought five delicious homemade pies, and I sampled each one!)

Here’s the text of the speech I gave. There’s a lot of hope in it, so please take a look:

Beating back the counterrevolution in Wisconsin

This week, our ace research director, Mike Buelow, dug out some information that no other media outlet has reported yet on some of Walker’s big donors who exceeded the legal limit in their donations to him. To see who’s on the naughty list, just click here:

Eleven contributors prompted $28K in penalties paid by Walker campaign

Meanwhile, back at the Capitol, Walker was rewarding some of his other donors, even as he assaulted Wisconsin’s great tradition of local control and home rule. Landlords and bill collectors were among the winners—and tenants and consumers among the losers:

Walker approves more laws to limit local control

On Tuesday, we unveiled our “Influence Peddler of the Month,” and it’s none other than Kurt Bauer, who heads Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), which is the most powerful outside group inside the Capitol. You can read all about him here:

Influence peddler of the month - Kurt Bauer

In the next few weeks, we’ll be releasing a comprehensive indictment of the anti-democratic and anti-good government laws passed in the last five years of this Walker counterrevolution, laws that were backed by WMC and other special interests.

Please send us a tax-deductible gift today to help cover our research and to support the urgent work that we’re doing to save democracy in Wisconsin: www.wisdc.org/donate

I look forward to hearing from you shortly.

***

P.S. You can make your tax-deductible gift simply by clicking here (www.wisdc.org/donate) or by mailing it in to us the old-fashioned way at 203 S. Peterson St, Suite 100, Madison, WI 53703. Either way, we really appreciate it!

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Beating Back the Counterrevolution in Wisconsin

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Monday, 29 February 2016
in Wisconsin

scott-walker-GOPSpeech originally presented before Lake Mills Progressives Informed and Engaged on February 26, 2016.


LAKE MILLS, WI - Thanks, Leslie, and Progressives Informed and Engaged, for inviting me. I would have come anyway, but the lure of homemade pies made it absolutely irresistible since pies are my favorite things to eat.

I’ve been baking my own fruit pies for 30 years now, and if you need to know, I use a blend of Organic Valley butter and that old standby, white coagulated Crisco, for my shortening, and it works every time.

You know, I could talk about pie all day, or about birds, since I’ve been a birdwatcher for 50 years, and it’d be a lot more diverting than the topic at hand, which is the plight of democracy in Wisconsin.

But that’s why we’re here, and that’s why we all do the political work that we do:

because we believe in democracy,

and we cherish Wisconsin’s historic reputation for clean government,

and we’re appalled at the destruction that the Scott Walker Wrecking Crew has wreaked on our beloved state in the span of just five years.

The fact is, we’re in the midst of a counterrevolution right now.

Our state has been taken over by people who don’t give a damn about democracy.

They don’t give a damn about clean and open government.

They have no respect whatsoever for the public good.

There’s a wholesale assault on democracy in Madison right now, waged not only by Gov. Scott Walker but also by Speaker Robin Vos and your very own Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and by the corrupt justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court – and they’re all doing the bidding of the corporate powers behind them.

When I said they don’t give a damn about democracy, that’s obvious by the fact that they passed one of the strictest Voter ID laws in the country.

I don’t if you saw the recent John Oliver segment on his HBO show ridiculing your own Joel Kleefisch, but it was a thing of beauty. He showed Kleefisch on the floor of the Assembly denouncing people who vote more than once in an election, and then Oliver showed him voting twice on one bill, once for himself and once for an absent legislator. Oliver also showed that Sauk City’s DMV is only open on the 5th Wednesday of every month for registering to vote, and there are only four months with five Wednesdays this year.

That’s how they disenfranchise people. And they do it in other ways, too.

Republicans have also gotten rid of weekend voting before the elections.

And they’ve done away with allowing the League of Women Voters, or anyone else, for that matter, to be deputized to register people to vote.

They even won’t let the city clerks conduct voter registration efforts in public libraries.

Another way they’re assaulting democracy is by drawing some of the most rigged electoral maps in the country. This gerrymandering has got to stop! In secret, in the offices of a high-priced private law firm in downtown Madison, the Republicans met in 2011 to devise, with some fancy computers, some devious electoral maps that stuffed Democrats into fewer and fewer districts. As a result, even though Republicans in the Assembly lost the overall popular vote, they gained 60 of the 99 seats.

I said they don’t give a damn about clean and open government. That’s clear by their repeated efforts to curtail our open-records laws. You’ll remember that Speaker Vos led a sneak attack on these laws on the weekend of July 4 th last year, which showed his appreciation for irony, I suppose.

Fortunately, the people of Wisconsin, and the editorial page writers, rose up and gave legislators a piece of their mind, so they had to back down. But Vos, who has that lean and hungry look, keeps scheming about ways to accomplish this goal even to this day.

They also showed their hostility to clean and open government by drastically rewriting our campaign finance laws so that candidates can coordinate with outside groups, which can raise unlimited amounts of money and never disclose where it’s coming from. And big donors who give directly to candidates no longer have to say where they work so it’ll be harder to tell which piece of legislation is bought and paid for by which company.

And I said they had no respect for the public good. Actually, in their crude and selfish ideology, everything public is bad, and everything private is good. They don’t like public workers; they don’t like public schools. Hell, they don’t even pay for public parks anymore.

So what do they believe in?

They believe in power, and all they want to do is grab as much as they can as fast as they can . And to reward their paymasters and their corporate crony friends, whether it’s the Koch Brothers, or ALEC, or Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. There isa sinister symbiosis at play here. The politicians who rule our state get the money that keeps them in power from these corporate groups, and then these politicians dutifully push through legislation that benefits these corporate groups, which then turn around and give more money to these same politicians. The leaders in the legislature have turned our government into an ATM for their corporate cronies. And that’s what most of the legislation they pass is all about.

Just this week, they passed a bill that helps debt collectors. You know, when these guys were running for office, I didn’t hear them saying we’ve got to make life easier for debt collectors!

There’s no public demand for most of the bills that I see flash across my computer every day.

Were people really demanding the right to carry switchblades?

Were they really demanding the right to allow payday lenders to sell more products to desperate consumers?

Were they really demanding the right for bankers to offer misleading sub-prime loans, which were immortalized in “The Big Short?”

Were they really demanding the right of pipeline owners to exercise eminent domain and boot you out of your house?

Were they really demanding the right to give landlords more power to evict people?

Were they really demanding the right to let huge factory farms have less regulation over their high-capacity wells?

Were they really demanding the right to have more lead in our paint?

Of course not. These are all special-interest bills, written for and sometimes by, they very groups that would benefit from them. They are not written for, or by, you--I can you promise you that.

This is not how democracy is supposed to work.

This is happening not just in Wisconsin, but around the country. And it’s not a new problem:

Thomas Jefferson warned us 200 years ago almost to this day, when he said: “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of the monied corporations.”

150 years ago, Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Edward Ryan warned us that "there is a looming and new dark power. . . .The enterprises of the country are aggregating vast corporate combinations of unexampled capital, boldly marching, not for economic conquests only, but for political power. For the first time really in our politics money is taking the field as an organized power. …

Well, money has really taken the field these days and it wins almost all the time.

Edward Ryan continued: “The question will arise, and arise in your day, though perhaps not fully in mine:

“Which shall rule — wealth or man?

“Which shall lead — money or intellect?

“Who shall fill public stations — educated and patriotic free men, or the feudal serfs of corporate capital?"

You know who picked up on this “feudal serf” line? Not just Fighting Bob La Follette, who fought corporate power his whole life.

No, a more recent Wisconsin politician, a Republican named former State Senator Dale Schultz. He was the Senate Majority Leader for the Republicans for a while. And when he decided not to run again, he said that many legislators have become, and these are his words, “feudal serfs for folks with a lot of money.”

People get this in their gut.

This is a bipartisan issue. The people by a huge bipartisan margin, already understand that big money plays too big a part in our political life. In a recent poll:

84 percent agreed that money has too much influence over politics.

And 80 percent of Republicans agreed with.

78 percent said money spent by outside groups in campaigns should be limited.

And 73 percent of Republicans agreed with that.

People understand a fundamental truth: We no longer live in a functioning democracy.

As Jimmy Carter told Thom Hartmann last year, we’ve become an “oligarchy with unlimited political bribery.”

Two years ago, two political science professors, one from Princeton and the other from Northwestern (Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page) studied 1,779 policy issues between 1981 and 2002 and what they found was startling: “It makes very little difference what the general public thinks…They have little or no independent influence on policy at all. … In our findings, the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes.”

Why don’t they teach that in seventh-grade civics class, or in high school social studies? Because there it is: Our democracy is not working anymore.

We’re finally hearing about this in our Presidential race.

Oddly, Donald Trump has talked about this. Remember in his first debate he said how easy it was for him to buy favors from elected officials? Hell, he bragged that he got Hillary Clinton to sit in the front row of his wedding. And that’s the least of it. Usually, tycoons give money not for vanity’s sake but because they want government agencies to give them something in return. And they get it! Now Trump says he’s not taking money from anyone else—that he’s self-financing, and therefore uncorrupted. Last night, he made the point again, saying he knows politicians because he gives them money, and he gives to candidates from both parties because he’s a good businessman. It’s heads I win, tails I win. And for proof, he mentioned the $5,000 check he’d written to Ted Cruz.

On the other side, Bernie Sanders talks about how the political system is rigged by Wall Street every time he says good morning. And he’s been saying it for at least 15 years now, God bless him, if you’ve heard him at Fighting Bob Fest, year in and year out, as I have.

And he’s gotten Hillary to start talking about it, too.

Both Hillary and Bernie are on record that they would make sure their Supreme Court appointees would vote to overturn Citizens United.

So let’s look at Citizens United for a second.

That decision said corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money to elect this candidate or defeat that candidate. And it contained the two most naïve statements ever written in a Supreme Court decision:

Independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

And “The appearance of influence or access, furthermore, will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy.”

What planet were those five justices living on when they came up with those whoppers?

Fortunately, people right here in Wisconsin haven’t fallen for them.

In 60 villages, towns, cities, and counties all across this state (including here in Lake Mills!), the people or their representatives have voted by overwhelming margins in favor of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to say, once and for all, that corporations aren’t persons and money is not speech. (The vote of the town board on Sept. 10, 2013, here was unanimous, by the way.)

But this movement is not just about overturning Citizens United; it’s about overturning 140 years of absurd Supreme Court precedents that grant personhood to corporations.

Amending the Constitution is the fundamental solution to the problem of money in politics, and I hope I’ll live to see such an amendment pass.

I’m an impatient man . I don’t want to wait for the pendulum to swing. I want to give it a big Badger shove in the pro-democracy direction.

As Fighting Bob La Follette put it 100 years ago, “The cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy.”

We need more democracy, now, in this country.

And we need more democracy, now, right here in Wisconsin.

And no, I don’t get discouraged. I know that nothing is static, and that these guys won’t be in power forever, and that democracy surges forward unexpectedly – but especially when we give it a shove.

I’m a student of Howard Zinn’s, the great people’s historian, who chronicled these surges from below. And he once wrote:

“ TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. To live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

So, yes, let’s defy all that is bad around us!

And yes, let’s affirm all that is good!

What is good?

Well, things are starting to move.

Nationally, there’s the Fight for $15 movement. Who would have thought, just a few years ago, that people would have been walking off their jobs, en masse, at McDonald’s and Burger King and demanding $15 an hour? And who would have thought they’d be winning, as they have already in Seattle and elsewhere?

There’s the Black Lives Matter movement, focusing attention on police brutality in a systematic way that we haven’t seen since the 1960s.

Or look at the movement to end climate change: It stopped the XL Pipeline, let’s not forget.

And then there’s Bernie’s campaign, whether you’re voting for him or not, you’ve got to admit he’s drawn attention to some of the key issues of our day: like our rigged economy and our rigged political system, and our rigged media. And he has caught on in a way that few could have predicted.

Here, statewide, you’ve got the success of United to Amend, the group that’s working so hard to overturn Citizens United.

Plus, Walker’sapproval rating is barely above the freezing mark, and that of the Republican legislators is actually below freezing.

And here’s another thing: The Walker Wrecking Crew wasn’t able to get everything that it wanted in this session.

It didn’t get:

--to impose limits on school referendums

--to allow individual landowners to excavate Native burial grounds

--to allow AquaAmerica, a Pennsylvania company, to have an easier time buying up public water utilities

--to allow people who own property on a lake to dredge up and haul away three truckloads of sediment every year.

Here’s another ray of hope: The district attorneys of Dane County, Iowa County, and Milwaukee County are appealing the horrendous Wisconsin Supreme Court decision on the John Doe straight up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where I think they’ll actually win!

But more than any other reason, I’m hopeful because over the last year, I’ve met some really amazing people in the pro-democracy movement here in Wisconsin.

Some of the amazing people are in the state legislature, such as JoCasta Zamarripa, who stands up for immigrants and poor people, or Chris Taylor, who exposes ALEC and defends women’s health. Every day, they defy the high school bullies who rule the Capitol. And there are some courageous Republicans in there, too, like Senator Rob Cowles, who voted against the Campaign Finance bill and blocked some of the worst elements in the latest shoreline giveaway bill. Or Assembly Rep Todd Novak, who voted for nonpartisan redistricting and against the budget.

And some of the amazing people are in the nonprofit sector, like Christine Neumann-Ortiz, of Voces de la Frontera, who last week led 20,000 people in the “Day Without Latinos” rally.

Or people like Jay Heck of Common Cause, or Andrea Kaminski of the League of Women Voters, or Kerry Schumann of the League of Conservation Voters, or Kim Wright of Midwest Environmental Advocates, or George Penn of United to Amend, or Astar Herndon and Martha de la Rosa of 9to5, or Robert Kraig and Anita Johnson at Citizen Action, or like Dana Schultz and Colleen Gruszyinski at Wisconsin Voices, or Scott Foval at People for the American Way, or Peter Skopec at WisPIRG.

These are people, many of them a lot younger than me and with a lot more energy, who are working together as never before to get this state back on track.

We’ve torn down our silos, we’ve shelved our egos, we’re meeting and strategizing together on a regular basis, and we’re all rowing in the same direction. And we’ll get there yet!

So let me leave you with one final quote:

Seamus Heaney, the great Irish poet who died two years ago, wrote a beautiful poem called “The Cure at Troy.” I’m not going to read the whole poem to you but one line sticks in my head: He wrote, there are times in our lives when “hope and history rhyme.”

Let’s make hope and history rhyme again in Wisconsin.

Let’s turn things around here so we can say, once again, that we’re proud to be from Wisconsin.

Thank you.

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Scalia and John Doe/Vos and Vouchers

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 17 February 2016
in Wisconsin

antonin-scaliaMADISON - When I heard the news about Justice Scalia, one of my first thoughts was how was this going to affect the appeal of the John Doe decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. So I scratched my head on that one, and this is what I came up with:

Scalia’s death ups the odds of John Doe appeal

This week, with every variety of nasty bills being pushed through the legislature at warp speed, we focused on one that Speaker Vos is peddling, and that’s his voucher expansion amendment (Assembly Amendment 3 to Assembly Bill 751), which is up for a floor vote tomorrow. Our research director, Mike Buelow, dug up the info on the voucher school lobby:

Who is behind more $$ for voucher schools?

Ironically, as yesterday was Election Day, the Republican leadership in the legislature thought it was an appropriate time to bring to a vote two bills that interfere with our franchise: one to do away with Special Registration Deputies (you know, those great folks from the League of Women Voters who sign people up); the other to deny towns and counties the authority to issue local ID cards. We wrote about them here:

Assembly poised to pass measures to make it harder to vote

Unfortunately, both of those bills passed, as have some bad environmental bills.

But don’t despair. The Walker Wrecking Crew won’t be in power forever. No one ever is.

And as Howard Zinn reminds us, “To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.”

Please enjoy that bit of wisdom, along with the warming weather.

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Wisconsin's Capitol a Disaster Area!

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Thursday, 11 February 2016
in Wisconsin

capitol-night-wiscAB 723 limiting the ability of towns and counties to issue local IDs, AB 868 the "Mark Harris bill" prohibiting legislators from simultaneously holding the office of county executive, bills to siphon more of our taxpayer dollars away from our public schools, maneuverings in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and more attacks on local control are just a few.


MADISON - I’ve spent a lot of time at the Capitol this week, and it’s a real disaster area!

The Republican leadership is ramming through lots of bills that are bad for democracy and the common good.

I was up there Wednesday testifying against a bill, AB 723, that would limit the ability of towns and counties to issue local IDs. Here’s my testimony:

WDC testimony opposing AB 723, regulating photo ID cards issued by local units of government

While I was waiting to testify on that one, I also gave impromptu testimony against a bill -- AB868-- pushed by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald to prohibit legislators from simultaneously holding the office of county executive. I said the voters ought to be able to decide that one for themselves, and I noted that many legislators have other jobs, including as mayors or county board members.

On Tuesday, I went to the Senate gallery to watch them debate a bill, SB 295, that would, for all practical purposes, block voter registration drives. Here’s the alert we sent out on this one:

Wisconsin  Republicans try to crush voter registration drives

Also this week, Speaker Robin Vos has been trying to siphon more of our taxpayer dollars away from our public schools and into the lap of the owners of voucher schools. We show you the money behind this shell game:

Who is behind more $$ for voucher schools?

We also have been keeping an eye on the maneuverings in the Wisconsin Supreme Court to see whether the three district attorneys who joined the case will be allowed to appeal the court’s horrendous John Doe decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. There’s an effort by lawyers – including one who is now famous for his role in the Netflix documentary “Making a Murderer”—to have Attorney General Brad Schimel try to quash it, which we wrote about twice:

Is Brad Schimel ace in the hole for John Doe opponents?
Schimel angles for an invite to block John Doe

And speaking of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, we’ve updated our database on the contributions to the candidates running to get on that bench next Tuesday:

Supreme Court campaign updated (If you want to find out who has been giving to which candidate, just click on the candidate’s name once you open that link. There are links to "issue" ads and special interest spending as well.)

And while we’re still on the subject of the state supreme court race, please keep your eyes peeled and your ears to the ground for any advertisement you see on TV or hear on the radio – or any mailing you get or billboard you see encounter – from outside groups.

One way to do so is to go to our Hijack Hotline on our website or by using this url:
http://www.wisdc.org/index.php?module=wisdc.websiteforms&cmd=hijackhotline

Or you could send us an email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , describing the ad and where you saw it.

That’s how we keep track of all the outside money!

Thanks for your help.

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Take Action: Block Senate Bill 295

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Monday, 08 February 2016
in Wisconsin

gotv-volunteersMADISON - The Wisconsin State Senate may vote as early as tomorrow, February 9th, on a bill that would end a time-honored tradition in Wisconsin: the voter registration drive.

Last week, the State Senate Committee on Elections and Local Government approved Senate Bill 295 on a party-line, 3-2, vote. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign opposes this bill and urges you – and all your friends – to contact their state senators and tell them to vote against the bill.

The bill would do two good things: It would allow some voters to register on line, and it would allow Veteran Health ID Cards to be valid for voting.

But at the same time, it would make it impossible to conduct voter registration drives. It would do this in two ways.

First, it would forbid the use of special registration deputies. These are people who have assisted municipal clerks in registering voters out in the community. For more than four decades, such deputies have done a phenomenal job in reaching out to our neighbors and signing people up to vote. This is the heart and soul of the work of such valiant groups as the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin.

Second, it would even forbid municipal clerks from conducting voter registration drives. This year, the clerks in Madison and Milwaukee have been conducting these registration drives in public libraries all over their cities.

This bill would depress voter turnout by design, and that’s outrageous.

So please contact your state senator today and urge your senator to vote no on SB 295.

If you don’t know your legislator’s name or email address, just go to legis.wisconsin.gov and type in your address in the box in the top right corner.

Thanks for your activism!

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Watch Those “Issue” ads!

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Sunday, 07 February 2016
in Wisconsin

rebecca-bradleyRebecca Bradley is running to keep the seat Scott Walker gave her last fall on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and she's using video from the Bradley Foundation backed Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, run by former Republican operatives, in her campaign. This coordination, which Bradley previously said she wouldn’t engage in, is now legal in Wisconsin.


MADISON - You can tell election season is open in Wisconsin now because your TV screens and your mailboxes are starting to fill up with bogus “issue” ads.

The first group out of the gate is the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, run by former Republican operatives. They’ve put together an ad that praises Rebecca Bradley, who is running to keep the seat Scott Walker gave her last fall on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. And they’ve even used video from Bradley’s campaign itself. This coordination, which Bradley previously said she wouldn’t engage in, is now legal in Wisconsin, by the way.

Group’s “issue ad” cribs from Supreme Court candidate’s campaign

And we just got a call today from one of our members who got a mailing from this same group that cast aspersions on Iowa County DA Larry Nelson, who is running for circuit court judge.

If you see an “issue” ad from any group, please contact us.

The best way to do so is to go to our Hijack Hotline on our website.

Feel free to contact us if you have any questions regarding the online reporting form or would rather discuss the details directly: (608) 255-4260.

Speaking of Larry Nelson, he’s one of the three district attorneys who recently joined the John Doe II case and is trying to appeal the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s ruling in the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. Now those who were being investigated by the John Doe are trying to block any such appeal, as we wrote here:

John Doe opponents try to block path to U.S. Supreme Court

One other issue we’re following closely is the outrageous effort to loosen the restrictions on high-capacity wells that factory farms use. The latest twist is that Speaker Robin Vos has urged AG Brad Schimel to intervene and overrule the DNR on this one. Turns out Schimel has gotten money from some of the biggest factory farm owners, as we show here:

Schimel to rule on wells after getting contributions from factory farms

You never know what they’ll come up with next! But you can count on us to expose it.

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Privatizing Water!

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Friday, 29 January 2016
in Wisconsin

clean-drinking-waterMADISON - This week we revealed that there is one company behind the Republican bills to make it easier to sell off municipal water utilities. Find out who that company is, and how much it spent on lobbying last year, by reading this article:

Bills would make it easier to privatize public water utilities

And guess whose fingerprints are all over these bills? None other than ALEC, as we show here:

ALEC’s fingerprints on bills to privatize public water supplies

The NRA is also throwing its weight around in the legislature. It’s behind two bills, including concealed carry for switchblades and other blades:

NRA-backed weapons bills head to Walker

As you can see, there have been a lot of retrograde bills coming down the pike lately. I had fun testifying at the Capitol on Tuesday against a bill that would restrict local governments from issuing their own ID cards to residents. Here’s my testimony:

WDC opposes Senate Bill 533 regulating photo ID cards issued by local units of government

And here’s a bill we support, as it would safeguard public records in Wisconsin:

Democratic bill would create fine for destroying certain public records

As the legislature hurries to finish up its work in the next month or so, we’ll keep an eye out on the bills – and the money behind the bills.

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Koch Brothers, WMC Back Bill Gutting Civil Service

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Friday, 22 January 2016
in Wisconsin

conference-roomMADISON - The state Senate approved and sent to the governor a bill on Wednesday that changes the longtime hiring process for 30,000 public sector jobs. The measure was backed by powerful business and conservative ideological groups that have spent millions of dollars since 2011 to help Republican lawmakers, who control the legislature, and GOP Gov. Scott Walker keep their jobs.

The measure, Assembly Bill 373, overhauls the state’s 110-year-old civil service hiring process by eliminating the requirement that job applicants take exams; shortening the process used by employees to appeal their discipline or dismissal by more than half; and prohibiting senior employees from avoiding termination by bumping less-senior workers from their jobs.

AB373, which was approved on a party line 19 to 14 vote in the Senate, was passed in October by the Assembly, and now goes to Walker, who supports it, for his signature.

Backers of the bill say the civil service process needed to be changed because it takes too long to hire and fire people. Opponents of the measure say the changes will hurt the quality of the state’s workforce by bringing political patronage and corruption back into the hiring of public employees.

The special interests behind the bill are generous backers of Republican legislators and Walker.

AB373 is backed by the state’s largest business group, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce(WMC), and Americans for Prosperity, a conservative ideological group created and funded bybillionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

WMC boasts a membership of 3,500 businesses that represent more than a dozen special interests groups, like business, manufacturing, construction, energy, transportation, and health care. The special interests represented by WMC contributed $11.2 million to current Republican legislators and another $31.8 million to Walker between January 2011 and June 2015.

In addition to direct contributions, WMC and Americans for Prosperity, which does not directly contribute to candidates, are among the top special interest sponsors of outside electioneering activities. Together, the two groups spent an estimated $22.4 million between January 2010 and December 2015 to support Republicans or smear Democratic candidates for statewide offices and the legislature.

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Appeal the John Doe Decision!

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Thursday, 03 December 2015
in Wisconsin

walkerMADISON - Yesterday, as you may have seen, the Wisconsin State Supreme Court came down with another terrible decision on the John Doe II investigation and essentially fired Special Prosecutor Francis Schmitz on the spot.

I wrote about Justice Shirley Abrahamson’s superb and scathing dissent, which you can read here:

Justice Abrahamson slams the canning of the John Doe prosecutor

We then posted the reaction of Prosecutor Schmitz, which is amazing. He says the rightwing groups he had to contend with in this case were trickier than the “violent criminals and terrorists” he used to have to deal with:

Read the defiant statement of the John Doe II prosecutor

We also sent out a letter to five district attorneys in Wisconsin, urging them to take up this battle and appeal the decision of the State Supreme Court straight up to the U.S. Supreme Court:

Open letter requesting DA intervention in John Doe II case

Now it’s your turn: If you’re in any of the five counties — Columbia, Dane, Dodge, Iowa, or Milwaukee — please call or send an email to your district attorney. Their contact information is at the top of the open letter.

The two likeliest DAs to take this up are John Chisholm of Milwaukee County and Ismael Ozanne of Dane County. So if you live there, be sure to contact them. Here’s their info:

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Phone (608) 266-4211

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Phone (414) 278-4646

We can’t let this horrendous State Supreme Court decision stand.

It would impair our ability to impose sensible limits on campaign spending in the future.

If you believe in fighting for democracy, as I know you do, please contact these DAs today.

Thanks for your activism.

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Wisconsin Democracy Campaign - 'Thanks on Thanksgiving'

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 24 November 2015
in Wisconsin

huntersBefore I get to my thank you notes for Thanksgiving, I wanted to share with you two postings by our research director, Mike Buelow.

He noticed a couple bills that are wending their way through the legislature, and both represent dangers to the children of Wisconsin. But they are backed by powerful interests.

The first one would allow a child of any age to go out hunting. This would overturn the current law, which requires a child to be at least 10 years old. Other aspects of the bill would also increase the chances of something going terribly wrong, but the NRA and some hunting groups support it, as you’ll see here:

Bill would remove age, weapons restrictions in hunting program for children.

The second bill would lower the age limit for kids using utility vehicles, and it would also up the horsepower of ATVs. This bill is backed by Polaris Industries, which manufactures the vehicles. The CEO of Polaris, by the way, has given a lot of money to Walker. See how much by clicking here:

Polaris Industries backs lower age limit for rec vehicles.

So it’s business as usual in Walkerville.

But it doesn’t get me down because I’ve noticed a ton of opposition to this anti-democratic way of governing everywhere I go in Wisconsin.

And I’m thrilled to be working with so many great pro-democracy activists in this state. I thank many of them here:

Thankful on Thanksgiving to advocates for democracy in Wisconsin

I’d like to thank you, too, for reading our postings and for supporting our work. You make it all worthwhile.

Have a nice Thanksgiving!

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The Sun Rises in Milwaukee

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 18 November 2015
in Wisconsin

milwaukeeMADISON - I refuse to be gloomy!

Yeah, I know, we took a big hit on the GAB bill and the campaign finance bill. But I’m hopeful that things will turn around.

And one of the reasons I’m hopeful is that there is tremendous pro-democracy work going on around this state. For example, at the very time that the State Assembly was rubber-stamping these horrendous bills, I was at an inspiring conference in Milwaukee, where 150 pro-democracy and issue activists came together to chart a promising way forward. I write about it here:

Dark day in Madison, sunny dawn in Milwaukee

While I was in Milwaukee, our research director, Mike Buelow, was looking into a recent court decision that will handcuff the ability of the DNR to regulate high-capacity wells, which are siphoning off our water to factory farms. There’s one big factory farm that may benefit the most, as Mike reported here:

Milk Source, a big Walker donor, wins in judge's ruling on wells

Mike Buelow also uncovered all the money that employees of Johnson Controls have been giving Scott Walker, who doled out WEDC loans of almost $2.5 million to the company, which is now laying off workers:

Love triangle:  Johnson Controls, Walker contributions, and WEDC

By the way, I’m going back to Milwaukee tomorrow night to talk about “The Assault on Democracy in Wisconsin, and How We Can Fight Back.” So please come see me if you can.

Here are the details: I’ll be speaking at ATU Hall (Amalgamated Transit Union), 734 N. 26th St, at 7:00 p.m. this Thursday night, Nov. 19.

And please tell your Milwaukee friends about it, too. It should be fun, and I promise to be hopeful.

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I saw democracy get mugged!

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 10 November 2015
in Wisconsin

capitol-night-wiscMADISON - It happened late Friday night.

I was almost all alone in the Wisconsin Senate Gallery. A cop was there, and a page, and occasionally one other person. That was it.

We were the only witnesses, other than the media, to the mugging of democracy that was happening right below us, on the Senate floor.

The Republican senators, with the notable exception of Sen. Rob Cowles, managed to make a horrible campaign finance bill more horrible, and then all of them smashed the Government Accountability Board to bits.

You can read my account here:

The mugging of democracy in Wisconsin

We recently unveiled our “Influence Peddler of the Month.” For November, it’s none other than Americans for Prosperity, which was founded by the Koch Brothers. You can see how that group throws its weight around in Wisconsin by clicking here:

Influence peddler of the month - Americans for Prosperity

And if you’ve got any spare time, please come hear me speak over the next few days about “The Assault on Democracy in Wisconsin, and How to Get Money Out of Politics.” This is where I’ll be:

  • Nov. 10: Green Bay, 11:30 a.m., The Village Grille, 801 Hoffman Rd.
  • Nov. 11: River Falls at 7:00 p.m. at the public library
  • Nov. 12: New Richmond, 7:00 p.m., at Ready Randy’s, 1490 131st St.
  • Nov. 19: Milwaukee, 7:00 p.m., 734 N. 26th St.

If you know anyone who also might be interested, please share these details with them.

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