Friday, September 29, 2006

Wisconsin's Kangaroo Court

When the Democracy Campaign raised questions about money Mark Green raised in Washington as a member of Congress and later transferred to his campaign for governor, we set out to expose illegal donations. We also ended up further exposing what's wrong with the state Elections Board. This whole episode has shown what a kangaroo court the Elections Board is.

We initially pointed out that Green was accumulating too much money from special interest political action committees (PACs) and then questioned whether federal PACs in Washington could legally contribute to a candidate for governor in Wisconsin. We found that a large number of PACs that had given Green close to a half million dollars could not make lawful donations to a state race. On those grounds, we challenged that portion of the nearly $1.3 million Green's congressional campaign committee donated to his state campaign for governor. The Elections Board ordered Green to get rid of nearly $468,000 in illegal donations.

Later, when it was revealed by state Justice Department attorneys in circuit court last week that federal law prohibits a federal committee like Green for Congress from donating more than $43,128 to a candidate for governor in Wisconsin, the Democracy Campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission challenging the rest of the illegal funds.

How this all will ultimately play out, only time will tell. But what already is well established is that the Elections Board has thoroughly discredited itself.

Back in 2001, the Democracy Campaign objected to then-Congressman Tom Barrett's transfer of money he raised in Washington to the state campaign committee he used to finance his 2002 run for governor. The Elections Board permitted the transfer. We objected to Green's transfer on the same grounds and the Board chose to enforce the law.

Both transfers were plainly illegal. Barrett moved $346,545 in PAC money from his congressional account to his state campaign, including $267,300 from PACs that were not registered in Wisconsin and could not legally donate to a candidate for governor here. Barrett also proceeded to raise more PAC money in Wisconsin, bringing his total haul from special interest committees to $676,796 – well over the $485,190 cumulative limit in state law on PAC donations to candidates for governor.

The law is clear. It was illegal for Barrett to try to use all that money he raised in Washington for his campaign for governor in 2002, and it is illegal for Green to use $1.3 million in Washington money now. But the Elections Board has succeeded in removing the focus from the law and clouding the issue because of its habit of making decisions based on politics and not the law.

The Elections Board has been horribly inconsistent in how it has handled federal-to-state transfers and has done a generally miserable job of enforcing Wisconsin's campaign finance laws. This latest performance has provided a very vivid illustration of why the Board needs to be reformed.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Starting A Ruckus

At last Saturday's Fighting Bob Fest in Baraboo, organizers of the People's Legislature announced one of the next steps for this multi-partisan, grassroots reform movement – the formation of a "Ruckus Corps" of citizen volunteers who will create a little havoc in fighting government corruption and pressing for action on reform at the Capitol and in their own communities.

Training sessions will be organized for later this fall to prepare Ruckus Corps volunteers to engage in direct action, including acts of civil disobedience, at the Capitol and in the home districts of state lawmakers. The training also will aim to equip the corps with community organizing and reform advocacy skills.

Anyone interested in becoming part of the Ruckus Corps should call the Democracy Campaign at 608-255-4260 or toll-free at 888-455-4260, or drop us an e-mail at and provide a mailing address, phone number and e-mail address.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

All This For $28 Million

As we reported last Friday, the state Justice Department responded to concerns raised by the Democracy Campaign by ruling that the state Elections Board has to comply with a voter privacy law in Wisconsin's statutes. Registration numbers assigned to each voter need to be kept confidential as election officials compile voter lists under a new computerized registration system being developed for the state by the global outsourcing firm Accenture.

Now we're finding out how the Elections Board intends to do this. Despite sinking $28 million into the new statewide voter registration system, the Board's solution to the voter privacy issue we raised is decidedly low-tech.

Poll workers are now being instructed to cover voter registration numbers when allowing observers to view voter lists on Election Day or fulfilling open records requests for the lists. Recommended ways to protect voter privacy on the computer-generated lists include covering the numbers with a ruler, a piece of paper or remnants of file folders.

Friday, September 01, 2006

WDC Gets Answer on Voter Privacy Issue

In late July, the Democracy Campaign asked Attorney General Peggy Lautenschlager to review a state Elections Board directive to local election officials to ignore a state voter privacy law and requested an opinion from the attorney general about whether the Elections Board is at liberty to instruct election officials throughout Wisconsin to disregard the law.

We got our answer. In a letter from Alan Lee, deputy administrator of the state Justice Department's Division of Legal Services, we were informed that "the law certainly is valid and the Elections Board is not at liberty to ignore it." The letter goes on to say that the Elections Board "has indicated it will comply with the law."

Specifically, the letter from the attorney general's office says the Elections Board "will direct local election officials to cover the (voter registration) number, including the bar code, when making copies of the list." The Board also will "direct poll workers to cover the number, including the bar code, when permitting observers to view the poll list on Election day" and will "suppress the number when running reports from (the Statewide Voter Registration System) in response to open record requests."