Tuesday, January 24, 2006

'The Capitol Is On Fire'

Yesterday's "public telling" at the Capitol was memorable in so many ways. Citizens asking pointed questions about government corruption and political reform to blown-up photos of Governor Jim Doyle, Assembly Speaker John Gard and Senate Majority Leader Dale Schultz because they refused to answer in person or in writing. Legislative whistleblower Lyndee Woodliff describing in a trembling, barely audible voice how she saw lawmakers become lawbreakers. Retiring Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann saying you'd have to be "dumb as a shovel" to believe insiders' claims that big campaign donors don't want anything in return for their money except good government. McCann went on to say the "Capitol is on fire" with corruption.

And then there was the scene-stealing Doris "Granny D" Haddock, who turns 96 today and charmed the overflow crowd of more than 300 People's Legislature members with her special blend of passion and wit. One of her better lines was a story about a member of Congress who said, in so many words, that he is not tainted by his association with indicted Indian tribe lobbyist Jack Abramoff because he had sold out to Indian gaming interests long before he ever met Abramoff.

Granny D completed a 3,200-mile walk across the country to draw attention to government corruption and the need for political reform at the age of 90 and obviously believes the long journey to reform is nearing paydirt. The power of her example inspired more than a few in the standing-room-only crowd. One participant from the northwoods took the day off from work and drove 300 miles to be a part of the forum. He said "if Granny D can walk 3,200 miles for the cause, then I surely can drive 300 miles."

Monday, January 16, 2006

Get Big Money At Menards

In recent weeks, Republican Senator Dave Zien has taken to publicly poking the Department of Natural Resources in the eye over the agency's handling of a proposed expansion project at Menards' Eau Claire headquarters.

Zien claims state environmental experts have treated the large home improvement retailer shabbily and cost the state jobs. It is the typical claim of awful treatment businesses and individuals make when they want to use their land anyway they please and the state won't let them.

But the DNR and some of Menards' employees involved in the project have said recently their relationship has improved and they are working together to find a way to make the project work.

Zien made his comments as a member of a newly created Senate committee - the Select Committee on DNR Regulatory Reform - which is roaming around northern Wisconsin to encourage DNR bashing and gin up support for Republicans running in the November elections.

There may be more to this for Zien, however. It turns out Menards' employees are Zien's second largest source of campaign contributions when grouped by employer, giving him $4,350 since 1993.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Abramoff Update

Democratic Governor Jim Doyle and Representative Tom Nelson decided to return $1,200 in campaign contributions Tuesday from associates of convicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff hours after the Democracy Campaign revealed the donations.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

'Team Abramoff' Money In Wisconsin

Two former colleagues of sullied Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff have contributed $2,200 to Wisconsin candidates for state office, including $1,000 to Democratic Governor Jim Doyle who later hired the contributors' law firm to lobby the federal government, the Democracy Campaign has found.

Abramoff has pleaded guilty to bribery, tax evasion and defrauding Indian tribe clients, as well as to wire and mail fraud in a separate Florida case.

Neither of the two contributors, Washington lawyers Alan Slomowitz and Michael D. Smith, have been charged in the lobby scandal surrounding Abramoff. The pair was among numerous members of "Team Abramoff" who worked with Abramoff at the law firms of Preston Gates and Ellis and later Greenberg Traurig.

Campaign finance reports show Slomowitz contributed $1,000 to Doyle on December 2, 2003 and made two $500 contributions to former Democratic gubernatorial candidate and current Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett on June 10, 2002 and June 30, 2001. Smith contributed $200 to Democratic Representative Tom Nelson on April 1, 2004, a month after Abramoff resigned from Greenberg following initial media reports about the scandal.

Doyle hired Greenberg Traurig for $20,000 a month plus expenses in April and May 2005 to represent the state as the Pentagon considered closing numerous military bases in Wisconsin and around the country. Slomowitz was one of the company's two lobbyists put on the job.

On a related note, Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Green has been taking shots over e-mails that indicate his former chief of staff and now campaign manager, Mark Graul, got tickets to concerts, professional wrestling and sporting events from Abramoff in 2000.