Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Ethics And The Jensen 20

Sixteen of 20 Republican legislators or candidates for higher office who were mentioned in testimony during former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen's misconduct trial did not answer a recent survey asking where they stand on campaign finance and government ethics reform.

Witnesses said these officials got taxpayer-funded campaign help from state workers or were involved in campaign activities on state time in the 1998 or 2000 legislative elections. Jensen was sentenced in May to 15 months in prison after being convicted of three felony misconduct in public office charges, and a misdemeanor. He has appealed.

Topping the list of those whose names came up during the trial and who did not respond to the survey are gubernatorial candidate Mark Green and Assembly Speaker John Gard, who is running for Congress to represent Wisconsin's 8th District.

The others are Senator Neal Kedzie of Elkorn and Representatives Rob Kreibich of Eau Claire, Jeff Stone of Greendale, Gary Bies of Sister Bay, Judy Krawczyk of Green Bay, Phil Montgomery of Ashwaubenon, Jerry Petrowski of Marathon, Dan Meyer of Eagle River, Steve Kestell of Elkhart Lake, Gabe Loeffelholz of Platteville, Don Friske of Merrill, Kitty Rhoades of Hudson, Mark Pettis of Hertel and Eugene Hahn of Cambria.

Those mentioned during the trial who did respond to the survey were Senator Joseph Leibham of Sheboygan and Representatives Terry Musser of Black River Falls, Stephen Freese of Dodgeville and Terri McCormick of Appleton, who is also running for Wisconsin's 8th Congressional District seat.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Money Trumps Ethics For Most Legislators

Fewer than half the legislative candidates running in the November elections responded to a six-question survey on campaign finance and government ethics reform conducted by WDC, Common Cause and the League of Women Voters.

And the real reason for many of them is not too hard to figure out. A review of the latest campaign finance reports they filed found that many of the legislative candidates who refused to answer the survey raised a lot of money from influential special interests.

Nineteen of 25 incumbent legislators who raised the most campaign contributions between January and June 2006 refused to answer the survey, and another incumbent definitively answered only two of the six questions.

You would think the corruption convictions of five of their former colleagues and an aide in the last nine months would move legislators toward reform out of political necessity. But most of the 81 incumbent legislators who refused to publicly stake out a position on ethics were the same ones who refused to even vote on campaign finance and ethics bills during the past legislative session.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

In No Hurry For Ethics

Yesterday we released the responses we've received from candidates for state office to the ethics survey the Democracy Campaign, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and Common Cause in Wisconsin sent them three weeks ago. Two of the three candidates for governor – Democratic Governor Jim Doyle and Green Party nominee Nelson Eisman – answered the questionnaire. Republican Mark Green didn't bother.

Green's campaign manager, Mark Graul, denies the congressman is ducking the questions. He says Green is a busy man and just didn't have time.

Graul went on to tip Green's hand on the reform issues covered in our questionnaire. He said Green opposes public financing of campaigns and doubts the constitutionality of requiring sponsors of so-called "issue ads" to disclose how the messages were paid for.

Green apparently has already forgotten the U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 ruling in McConnell v. FEC that left no doubt about the constitutionality of regulating issue ads and the soft money used to finance them.

In the majority opinion written by Justices John Paul Stevens and Sandra Day O'Connor with Justices David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer concurring, little was left to the imagination. "The proliferation of sham issue ads has driven the soft-money explosion.... The evidence connects soft money to manipulations of the legislative calendar, leading to Congress' failure to enact, among other things, generic drug legislation, tort reform, and tobacco legislation...."

The court majority also ruled that "...corporate, union, and wealthy individual donors have been free to contribute substantial sums of soft money to the national parties, which the parties can spend for the specific purpose of influencing a particular candidate's federal election. It is not only plausible, but likely, that candidates would feel grateful for such donations and that donors would seek to exploit that gratitude." And then this: "The idea that large contributions to a national party can corrupt or, at the very least, create the appearance of corruption of federal candidates and officeholders is neither novel nor implausible."

And then the justices stuck a stake through the heart of the 1976 legal precedent established in Buckley v. Valeo that had previously prevented regulation of this kind of activity. "The unmistakable lesson from the record in this litigation, as all three judges on the District Court agreed, is that Buckley's magic-words requirement is functionally meaningless.... Buckley's express advocacy line, in short, has not aided the legislative effort to combat real or apparent corruption, and Congress enacted (McCain-Feingold) to correct the flaws it found in the existing system."

Mark Green better rethink his use of the Constitution to oppose reform. He doesn't have a leg to stand on.