Thursday, October 05, 2006

Selective Enforcement And Selective Outrage

The state Elections Board decided yesterday to stick by its August 30 ruling ordering Republican candidate for governor Mark Green to get rid of nearly $468,000 in illegal donations, but punted the question of whether another $775,000 that the state Justice Department and a circuit court judge contend runs afoul of federal law should also be dumped by the Green campaign.

It's pretty obvious that political calculations and public relations implications were behind the Board's reluctance to wade any deeper into the legality of Green's money. The Board's chairman said as much, telling reporters after yesterday's meeting that the controversy over the Board's previous ruling on August 30 "kind of put the kibosh" on efforts to consider any further action.

It's somehow fitting that this latest chapter in the Board's long history of selective enforcement of Wisconsin's campaign finance laws was brought on by the selective outrage expressed by the state's political bosses, radio talk show hosts and letter-to-the-editor writers. Democrats pounced on the rulings that the donations were illegal to make Green out to be a corrupt lawbreaker. Republicans focused instead on the politicking in advance of the Elections Board's August 30 decision to characterize Green as an innocent victim of a rigged process.

In truth, Green is neither a criminal nor a victim. There is no evidence that he willfully set out to break the law. The Elections Board had previously wrongly permitted then-Congressman Tom Barrett to transfer large sums of money he raised in Washington to his campaign for governor in 2002. The Board's legal counsel also evidently gave the Green campaign some very dubious advice that left Green with the impression that he was on the right side of the law.

But how Green responded to later evidence that his money dump was in fact illegal cost him any claim to victimhood. The Democracy Campaign pointed out how the donation from Green's federal campaign committee to his campaign for governor violates Wisconsin's campaign finance laws, and Green didn't dispute the laws we cited, but rather said his donation was really a "conversion" of funds and the law shouldn't apply. When the Elections Board disagreed with this creatively murky interpretation of crystal clear laws and ordered him to divest himself of nearly a half million dollars, Green effectively said "order, schmorder." When state Justice Department attorneys and then a circuit court judge said the Elections Board had actually let Green off easy considering that nearly all of the $1.3 million his federal campaign donated to his state campaign for governor is illegal under federal law, he continued to say in effect "screw the law."

Of course, Green has every legal right to challenge the Elections Board's order and the circuit court judge's decision. But he is not following the customary legal path in exercising that right. Green's legal team clearly has assessed the chances of getting the circuit court ruling reversed on appeal and decided against following the normal route of asking the state appeals court to review the lower court's ruling. Instead, he is doing what lawyers call "forum shopping" – looking for a court that will give him the ruling he wants. His lawyers obviously have decided his best shot is before the state Supreme Court. So he's asking the state's highest court to take "original jurisdiction" over the case; in other words, pretend that Green never went to circuit court to challenge the Elections Board's order and the judge never ruled against Green. He's asking for a do-over, starting fresh with the Supreme Court.

It's already been reported in the media that at least five of the seven state Supreme Court justices have potential conflicts of interest in this case that could be serious enough to require them to recuse themselves. It was not reported that a sixth member of the court – Justice Patience Roggensack – received a $500 donation from Green for Congress on December 12, 2002.


Anonymous said...

Looks like Mike McCabe and the WDC are trying deperately to regain their non-partisan status with the first paragraph... like they ever where.

But in the end being a partisan hack is hard to hide.

Russ said...

In principal I could agree with Green giving back the $468K and an additional $775K if his opponent were an ethical man.
At this point I think all Wisconsin voters, that pay attention to politics, know what Diamond Jim Doyle is all about. The fact that he has collected mountains of money from special interests in exchange for legislative favors is extremely bothersome.
Allowing Doyle tactics to starve the Green campaign of money for TV ads is simply wrong.
If Doyle can buy another election with his tactics the citizens of wisconsin will be the losers.

Anonymous said...

What needs to happen in Wisconsin is for the state to set campaign spending limits on all state races, governor or otherwise.

Minnesota sets limits, and it works over there.

While both parties, in the current clime, scorch the ethics earth scrounging for donor dollars, it is the GOP that created the art form. Most of the GOP backers who slam Doyle and other Democrats do so because they seem to believe they have a divine right of corporate and special interest dollars.

On a side note, I attempted to count the number of promises made by candidate Green in the Oct. 6 debate. I lost count after 60. Does any intelligent voter believe Green is credible? And I wonder what his take on the current immigration climate would have been when his father and mother immigrated from then apartheid South Africa?

My problem with Doyle is that it's not in his character to ask Green questions like this. Maybe that is to Doyle's credit, but if he is going to win the shallow voter, those moved by negative Green Goblin televison ads, he needs to ask Green face-to-face on Oct. 20.

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of spending limits at a first glance. I can't say I've heard it discussed much. As for "And I wonder what his take on the current immigration climate would have been when his father and mother immigrated from then apartheid South Africa?"

I haven't heard anyone claim they immigrated illegally. If that's the case its news to me. If they immigrated legally then his views would probably be the same as they are now. No one thinks immigration is bad, its illegal immigration that is the problem.

Anonymous said...

If you groomed the elections board to vote the way you wanted them to and then said " I will watch your back" one could do anything! even illegal things like doyle telling the elections board how to vote.
1 in 5 dollars doyle recieved were from out of state.

Anonymous said...

What is Mike McCabe and the Big Libs going to do now ?
Poll Date Sample Green (R)Doyle (D)* Und. Spread
Zogby Interactive 10/10 - 10/16 877 LV 46 47 -- Doyle +1.0
Rasmussen 10/18 - 10/18 500 LV 44 48 7 Doyle +4.0
Pub Op Str (R) 10/10 - 10/12 600 LV 40 42 18 Doyle +2.0
Abacus (D) 10/09 - 10/12 708 LV 41 47 10 Doyle +6.0

Somebody is getting too close for comfort?