Panelists Sought

Feb. 6, 1998

Panelists Sought for Election Reform Discussion

Residents in Pierce and St. Croix counties will soon randomly be contacted to inquire whether they would participate in a week-long forum to debate political campaign financing reform in Wisconsin.

Some 400 persons will be contacted through a joint project by the Jefferson Center in the Twin Cities and the UW-River Falls political science department.

Those who express an interest will be asked whether they would be willing to participate in a citizen's panel that will hear arguments for and against campaign financing reform. The panelists will serve for five days in April and be compensated $100 per day for their time.

The Jefferson Center is a non-profit foundation that was formed in 1974 to conduct research and develop democracy. Over the years it has initiated numerous citizens panels to hear debates on such diverse topics as issues in the Minnesota governor's race, the St. Paul's mayoral race, the federal deficit, local school bond issues, organ transplants, and the impact of agriculture on water quality.

Panelists on these issues typically will hear presentations on all perspectives about an issue and then will come to agreement on a position that they believe is in the best public interest. The Jefferson Center then distributes the results to the public and to key decision-makers to influence public policy debate.

During a presentation on the project on Feb. 5 at UW-River Falls, Jefferson Center founder Ned Crosby said the campaign finance reform panel's recommendations will be shared widely. Ultimately, he said, he expects the Center to pursue up to $15 million in corporate and foundation donations to share the recommendations nationwide. In some circumstances, Crosby said, it's possible to use the initiative process of some states to adopt the panel's recommendations as state law for funding political campaigns.

Those Pierce and St. Croix counties residents who indicate a willingess to participate will be placed into a pool of names from which 18 panelists will be drawn. According to Crosby, the final panel will be a mirror of American demographic profiles based on race, age and gender. There will be balance among those who both favor and oppose campaign funding reform that reflects the current distibution of Americans on the topic as indicated in polls.

Crosby noted that polls on such topics as campaign finance reform are useful in revealing the opinions held by Americans. However, he said, such polls do not determine whether those opinions are well-informed.

"The panelists will take a look at an issue in depth, hear from witnesses on both sides of the issue, and then talk to the community (panel) members and come to an agreement on a position."

Panelists will hear from well-known state and national experts on four types of campaign financing and decide which is most appropriate: full public financing; a mix of public and private funds; an emerging Republic Plan in Wisconsin based on an on-going commission studying the funding of elections; and a Citizens Reform approach supported by Crosby.

Students at UW-River Falls in a political participation course taught by Professor Dave Schultz will be used to ensure the panel project is unbiased. The students will select the 18 panelists from the pool of those interested in participating. They also will independently research the reform options and then monitor the presentations to the panel to ensure that all sides of the issue are being fairly presented.

For more information about the citizens panel, call Schultz at 715/425-3318.

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