Thursday, December 22, 2005

A Sign Of The Times

It will be harder for local communities to remove ugly, deteriorating billboards thanks to the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Governor Jim Doyle, who alone has received $17,450 from the outdoor advertising industry since 2002, including $3,000 during the first six months of this year.

The measure, Assembly Bill 155, sponsored mostly by Republicans and opposed by local government and environmental groups, was introduced in March and passed 70-27 in the Assembly and on a voice vote in the Senate this fall.

The bill the governor signed into law December 21 was similar to one he vetoed in the 2003-04 legislative session. It was highlighted by WDC along with other proposals and laws that take away local control in an August 2005 report, Gagging Democracy.

In addition to billboard owners, the proposal was backed by business, manufacturing, realtor, tourism, construction, automobile dealer and agricultural equipment interests. These special interests gave $6.9 million to current legislators from 1993 through June 2005, including $5.62 million, or 81 percent, to Republican legislators.

Those special interests gave Doyle $553,312, or 40 percent, of the $1.39 million in large individual and political action committee contributions he accepted during the first six months of 2005.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

There's No Eye In Team

Reasons abound why Wisconsin has gone blind to political corruption. Among them is the pathology evident in the major political parties. Belonging to a political party used to be like joining a club. Now it's more like getting caught up in a cult.

The frightening characteristics of religious cults are on prominent display in the two major parties. Even in a state like Wisconsin with its long history of independent politics and maverick politicians, party leaders now make constant references to what their "team" thinks. They enforce an unwritten rule forbidding lawmakers and their staffs from socializing or otherwise fraternizing with members of the opposing party. They feed members "talking points" that at first seem innocuous enough but after awhile resemble indoctrination in a terrifying group-think that rationalizes corrupt and even criminal behavior. Rank and file members who do not walk lockstep are first stripped of choice committee assignments or otherwise punished. If they don't fall in line, more pliable replacements are recruited.

The leaders of the major political parties who populate Wisconsin's state Legislature and our nation's Congress are not remotely representative of the people. These bosses are obsessed with who's right and who's left. If they’d spend half as much time thinking about what's right and wrong, we wouldn't be in the midst of political corruption scandals of historic proportions. And the majority of citizens might not feel politically homeless, as they do now.

The people of Wisconsin and America are not as hopelessly divided as the political pundits like to claim. We all have much in common. But the party bosses thrive on playing up what distinguishes them from their political enemies, and this cult mentality leads them to ceaselessly drive wedges between groups of citizens.

There's much that needs doing if we are to restore some sense of honor to government. But while we endeavor to throw the bums out, we also need to think about creating a political home for common folks. We need a common party. One where common sense matters more than ideological purity. And one where talk of the common good is not so uncommon.

Maybe one of the existing parties will finally take notice of the public's wholesale retreat from public life, sense a growth opportunity, and make an offer the commoners can't refuse. Maybe.

Just as likely, we're approaching one of those historic turning points that calls for the creation of something brand new and tests our capacity for democratic renewal.

Either way, the near future promises to be exhilarating . . . or petrifying, depending on how you take to social upheaval. Because the status quo is not sustainable. Something's got to give.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Political Ghosts Past And Present

Irony sent Bill Proxmire to meet his maker and Chuck Chvala to jail on the same day. Two of Wisconsin's most notable political figures now begin to fade into memory. But Prox's name will forever be attached to the state's proud past and his memory will always evoke images of independence and integrity. He will be fondly remembered for his considerable wit, his legendary frugality, his tireless handshaking and, of course, those Golden Fleece Awards. His relatively modest list of legislative achievements will be forgiven. Bill Proxmire was the embodiment of Wisconsin's tradition of clean and open government.

Chvala's political epitaph reads simply "convicted felon." He is the ghost of our political present, a tragic symbol of the culture of corruption that has been allowed to take root at the State Capitol. His many legislative accomplishments will be forgotten, overwhelmed by memory of his arrogant disregard for ethical boundaries. He will forever be associated with one of the darkest periods in Wisconsin history. He broke the law. He got caught. He was brought to justice. He is disgraced. His legacy is one of shame. Shame that he brought on himself and that he brought on the whole state.

Now what will we take from our encounters with these ghosts of Wisconsin's past and present? Will we choose to make things right?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Atta Boy

Republican candidate for governor Mark Green finally submitted a revised campaign finance report in order to properly identify more than $387,000 in special interest campaign contributions listed in his initial January 2005 campaign finance report.

WDC called on the campaign November 2 to do the right thing by voters and tell us who these big givers are.

Shortly after we blew the whistle, the State Elections Board said it had mistakenly told the campaign it did not have to identify the occupations and employers of these special interests. The board said it was now requiring the Green camp to submit the additional information.

WDC doesn't really care who screwed this one up - Green for not divulging information to voters he already had from federal campaign reports he filed from 2002 through 2004, or Elections Board members, who chronically drop the ball and fail the public when it comes to enforcing Wisconsin's campaign finance laws.

We're just glad the information is finally there for voters to view.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Connecticut-Kenosha Connection

When the Democracy Campaign reviewed Governor Jim Doyle's latest campaign finance report, we couldn't help but notice the amount of money he was receiving from Connecticut. Over three-quarters of the Connecticut money came from the Mohegan Indian tribe. This was not the first time Mohegan money showed up on a Doyle campaign report.

The question was why.

Now we know. The Mohegan tribe is partnering with Wisconsin's Menominee Indian tribe and Kenosha businessman Dennis Troha and his Kenesah Gaming Development LLC to develop and eventually manage a casino in Kenosha.

The idea of a tribal casino in Kenosha has been dogged by controversy and is hardly a done deal. But campaign finance records show the project's backers are busy lubricating the political machinery. Aside from the Mohegan donations, Troha was the biggest single donor to Doyle's 2002 campaign for governor. And his family remained at the top of Doyle's donor list for 2003 and 2004.

The Democracy Campaign's report on Illinois donors to the three major-party candidates in the 2006 race for governor shows that Nathan Cambio and his wife, Tina, are Doyle's top Illinois contributors. Cambio is employed by ATC Leasing, one of Troha's family businesses.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

He Owes His Soul To The Company Store

While reviewing campaign finance reports filed by state candidates, the Democracy Campaign found that Republican candidate for governor Scott Walker often failed to follow state law by not disclosing the occupations and employers of contributors who made 114 donations to his campaign totaling $75,850.

One of the improperly reported contributions came from John Savage, a state Elections Board member who is supposed to enforce compliance with state campaign finance laws. Savage gave Walker's campaign for governor $500 and the Walker campaign reported Savage's occupation as "debtor."

Debtor indeed. Savage owes his Elections Board post to Republican Party bosses. He is the state GOP's appointee to the board.

Aside from his role as political crony, Savage is a Milwaukee attorney, tax scofflaw and onetime inner-city slumlord.

Another big donor whose occupation the Walker campaign drew a blank on is former Secretary of Administration and now utility executive James Klauser, who also gave Walker $500.