Thursday, July 28, 2005

Breaking The Code

If anyone wonders why the Democracy Campaign and other critics of Wisconsin's contract with Accenture to develop a computerized statewide voter registration list made such a big deal about the underlying computer source code remaining the private property of the company under the original agreement, take a look at this. (You need RealPlayer to view it. If you don't have it, go here.) The video clip features sworn testimony computer programmer Clinton Curtis gave at a congressional hearing. Curtis describes how easy it is to alter vote totals and fix election results, and says it can be done without a trace . . . unless you can inspect the source code.

Our citizen lawsuit challenging the Accenture deal ultimately fell short of the goal of getting the contract cancelled, but it did succeed in forcing changes to the contract to permit inspection of the source code.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Doyle Budget Super Sizes Big Business

Governor Doyle's 2005-07 state budget increases the amount of multi-million dollar grants, cheap loans and tax breaks the state can give to big business and wealthy contributors, the Democracy Campaign has found.

Doyle used his veto pen to increase the number of geographic areas - from 81 to 98 - that the state's Enterprise Development Zones program can create to hand out its $243 million in tax credits to business. This and other Commerce Department programs were created to help small- and medium-sized businesses locate in areas of high poverty or unemployment. The problem is millions of dollars in tax breaks, grants and cheap loans have gone to Fortune 500 companies like Wal-Mart, Home DePot, General Motors and others to build or expand headquarters in affluent burbs, like Brookfield, Menomonee Falls and Mequon. For more details see the Democracy Campaign's "Serving the Have-Mores" report.

Doyle also vetoed a provision added by the Legislature to require the Enterprise Development Zones program and the Wisconsin Development Fund to make at least 50 percent of their awards to small businesses. "In order to continue to grow Wisconsin's economy, the department must retain its flexibility to fund deserving businesses that will have a significant impact on local economies throughout the state," he said.


Increasing the number of zones dilutes the benefits available to businesses that really deserve the help and vetoing the small business requirement lets his administration continue to award as much corporate welfare to big business and wealthy contributors as it wants.

By the way, Doyle has received $4.26 million in campaign contributions since 1993 from business, manufacturers, insurance and other wealthy special interests that benefit from these programs, including $3.31 million, or 78 percent, since 2002 when he successfully ran for governor through 2004.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Progressive Or Porkressive?

A life-long Republican businessman from Sturgeon Bay says he thinks Democratic Governor Jim Doyle's administration is good for Wisconsin. What he didn't say is that his company will probably be the beneficiary of $8 million worth of state business grants courtesy of Doyle's 2005-07 state budget.

"I've been a Republican all my life. I won't hesitate to say, this administration is good for Wisconsin. This is an administration that is progressive," Mike Kelsey, president of Palmer Johnson Yachts, told the Appleton Post-Crescent in a July 15 published report.

Last February, Doyle sent the Legislature a budget asking to spend $6 million to build a boat slip to be used by Palmer Johnson and Bay Shipbuilding Company. In addition, the governor wants to give Palmer Johnson $2 million to help it build a yacht construction facility. Both proposals sailed through the Republican-controlled Legislature and are waiting for final approval by Doyle with the rest of the budget.

There is no record Kelsey has made campaign contributions to a legislative or statewide candidate since 1993 but fellow executive William Parsons has contributed $1,555 - all to GOP candidates - since 1997.

Let's see what Doyle's 'porkressiveness' gets him down the line.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Disappearing Act

Wisconsin Right to Life is the latest special interest group to go below the radar with its efforts to influence state elections. In 2002, the anti-abortion lobbying group ranked 13th among interest groups in so-called "independent expenditures," disclosing campaign spending in 69 Assembly races and 12 Senate races. In 2000, WRL was the 7th highest spender in legislative races, reporting campaign spending for or against candidates in 64 Assembly districts and eight Senate districts.

In 2004, WRL reported no independent expenditures to influence state races. That's right, zero. Yet the group issued a press release trumpeting a "one net pro-life seat gain in the Assembly and a one net pro-life seat gain in the State Senate" and boasting that it was the "only organization on either side of the abortion issue who can claim responsibility" for electoral gains.

WRL says it reached over 100,000 households with phone calls and mailings for state legislative candidates and says radio ads "on behalf of state legislative candidates" reached hundreds of thousands. The group claims it also distributed literature door to door and in churches.

But not a penny of the expense of this statewide effort was publicly disclosed. Like so many of the major special interest groups in Wisconsin, WRL is exploiting a loophole in Wisconsin's campaign finance laws to escape disclosure requirements. An April 2004 Democracy Campaign report called attention to the growing trend toward hidden campaign spending.

The loophole WRL and other groups are using to sidestep disclosure and evade campaign contribution limits is one the U.S. Supreme Court ruled can and should be closed. After this high court ruling, the Democracy Campaign asked the state Elections Board to adopt a truth-in-campaigning rule closing the loophole and wrote a draft rule for the Board's consideration. On three procedural motions, the Board voted to move forward with the rulemaking. But when the time came for a vote on final approval, the state Democratic Party's appointee – who had voted three times in favor of the disclosure rule – switched sides and cast the deciding vote to kill the rule.

The flip-flopping Democratic designee, Martha Love, was not reappointed to the Elections Board. New Democratic Party chairman Joe Wineke replaced her recently with Robert Kasieta of Verona.

Spinning Incompetence

In response to the splitting headache that the Accenture voter-list deal has become, the state Elections Board recently did what any embattled government agency would do: It hired a spin doctor.

The Elections Board's new "public information officer," Kyle Richmond, certainly will earn his keep. Sweating over missed deadlines, the Board has been busy renegotiating its contract with Accenture. Now the Board is revising its agreement with another private contractor working on the project, Deloitte Consulting. Under the new arrangement, Deloitte stands to earn an additional $1.5 million for project management services.

State taxpayers already were on the hook for at least $26.8 million in costs to develop the federally mandated voter registration system, including the $13.9 million the state has agreed to pay Accenture, the original $2.7 million earmarked for Deloitte Consulting for project management, and $10.2 million for state Elections Board staff oversight, hardware and data entry. In contrast, Minnesota relied on state employees to do its statewide voter list and completed the work at a cost of $5.3 million.

Richmond is between a rock and a hard place in his role as public apologist for the voter-list debacle. Justifiable sympathy does not excuse his recent stumbles, however. Earlier this month, he was telling citizens contacting the Elections Board to express their outrage with the Accenture contract that "the contract has not been 'reopened' as some have claimed."

We reminded him that his boss, Elections Board executive director Kevin Kennedy, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in May that he "wants to reopen the contract." When asked about whether the Elections Board might agree to pay Accenture more, he said "I wouldn't rule that out." The Elections Board subsequently agreed to a number of amendments to the contract in June. We know because we have the documents.

In a display of semantic gymnastics that would make Bill Clinton proud, Richmond insisted to us that Kennedy's quotes do not contradict what he later told angry citizens. And he held firm that the contract had not been reopened and instead characterized the numerous amendments to the Accenture agreement merely as "selective changes to the components and delivery dates stipulated in the contract."

So glad you cleared that up, Kyle. I guess it all depends on what the meaning of "reopen" is.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

And Here We Thought Every Day Is Paul La Schiazza Day

The Appleton Post-Crescent recently sifted through more than 1,000 proclamations issued by Governor Jim Doyle since he took office in 2003. Most are silly but perfectly harmless and a few are downright hilarious, but one in particular caught our attention. Doyle proclaimed June 4, 2004 Paul La Schiazza Day. On May 10, 2004 La Schiazza made a $1,000 contribution to Doyle's re-election campaign. La Schiazza is president of telecommunications giant SBC Wisconsin.

During the 2002 election campaign for governor, La Schiazza supported Scott McCallum. But La Schiazza and other top brass at SBC took a sudden interest in Doyle once he became governor. The company certainly has been rewarded for its attention to political detail. Among the wishes granted are corporate tax breaks, business deregulation legislation, a lucrative state contract to provide high-speed Internet access to state public and private schools, libraries and the technical college system, and now an obscure budget item allowing the Public Service Commission to increase the penalties SBC can impose for some late payments by customers that will pad the company's bottom line to the tune of $1.7 million.

An official Paul La Schiazza Day pales in comparison to those goodies. And besides, Doyle seems...well, let's say...undiscriminating whens it comes to handing out proclamations. A couple of weeks after La Schiazza was recognized, Doyle named June 17, 2004 Heat Awareness Day. This year, the week of May 7 was proclaimed Emu Week. May 11 was Root Canal Awareness Day. The week of May 21 was Tinnitus Awareness Week.

You have to wonder who thought it would be a good idea to make October 2004 the Month of the Young Adolescent and Pornography Awareness Month. But then again, last October was a month to remember for a dizzying array of causes. Doyle also proclaimed it Childhood Emergency Care Injury Prevention Month, Brain Injury Awareness Month, Respite and Crisis Care Awareness Month, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Awareness Month, Medical Ultrasound Awareness Month, Nieman-Pick Disease Awareness Month, Physical Therapy Month, United Way Month and Cranberry Month.

Since proclamation fever is running high in the Capitol's east wing and the governor and his people obviously are scraping the bottom of the barrel for stuff to recognize, a little help from the citizenry appears to be in order. Nominations anyone?