Thursday, May 31, 2007

Listen To Your Elders

Two of Wisconsin's elder statesmen – former Governor Lee Sherman Dreyfus and former legislator and state school superintendent Bert Grover – sounded off recently about the nature of modern politics and the state of our democracy. One a Republican, the other a Democrat. Both worth listening to. To read Grover's piece, go here. The Dreyfus commentary is here.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Shadowy Is As Shadowy Does

Democratic campaign operative Bill Christofferson took exception recently to a commentary of mine that referred to his Greater Wisconsin Committee as a "shadowy outfit."

In his letter to the editor, Christofferson claims the Greater Wisconsin Committee "operates exactly the same way" as the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. GWC is an electioneering group. It is a receptacle for special interest donations that cannot be legally given directly to candidates, and it uses that extralegal money to pay for campaign ads that plainly aim to influence the outcome of elections. The Democracy Campaign is a watchdog group and does no election campaign advertising whatsoever. Equating these two nonprofit groups is like saying night and day operate exactly the same way.

Christofferson goes on to say I imply Greater Wisconsin Committee is spending corporate money but have no way of knowing. He says "given the progressive, pro-consumer positions Greater Wisconsin takes, corporate dollars are not likely to flow its way."

Internal Revenue Service records show that one of GWC's biggest sources of funds is the Democratic Governors Association, a nonprofit corporation. In 2005 and 2006, the DGA gave Christofferson's group nearly $1.1 million. Where did DGA get the money it then funneled to outfits like Greater Wisconsin Committee? Wisconsin donors included Johnson Bank, Johnson Controls, Madison Gas & Electric, Miller Brewing, Northwestern Mutual Life, S.C Johnson and Son, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Wisconsin Public Service Corporation and three Indian tribes. And, oh yes, indicted casino developer Dennis Troha, who appears to have figured out a little too late that he could make use of groups like DGA and GWC to get around legal limits on campaign donations.

The list of out-of-state donors to Greater Wisconsin Committee's sugar daddy reads like a who's who of corporate America – AT&T, Coca Cola, Goodrich Tires, Lockheed Martin, Motorola, Toyota, Union Pacific and Verizon Communications, just to name a few.

Documents filed with the IRS also show that another national nonprofit corporation, the Democratic Attorneys General Association, supplied Greater Wisconsin Committee with over $800,000 in 2006. Among the Wisconsin donors who filled the DAGA's coffers were Miller Brewing and Wisconsin Energy Corporation. National contributors included Altria Group (formerly Philip Morris), AT&T, Dow Chemical, GlaxoSmithKline and Hewlett Packard.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Squeezing Georgia Thompson

If you've been following the state travel contract saga, or if you're just interested in peering through a window into our criminal justice system, this is must reading. And damn good journalism.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Sweet Deal Turns Sour

News that a top executive with a Chicago-based real estate company was charged yesterday in federal court with soliciting a kickback on the sale of a state building had a ring of familiarity to it.

Just over a year ago, the Democracy Campaign pointed out large contributions from Equis Corporation executives to Governor Jim Doyle's reelection campaign right around the time the company landed an eyebrow-raising contract to sell state property. That prompted media scrutiny of the terms of the deal.

It looked like a sweetheart deal then, and it certainly doesn't look any better now.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Senate Passes 3 Reform Bills

The state Senate this afternoon passed three reform proposals supported by the Democracy Campaign including Senate Bill 77, truth-in-campaigning legislation requiring full disclosure of special interest electioneering. SB 77 was approved on a 26-7 vote.

The Senate also passed Senate Bill 23, which addresses the revolving door between lawmaking and lobbying by requiring a one-year cooling off period before state lawmakers who leave the Legislature may start working as lobbyists at the Capitol. SB 23 passed on a 30-3 vote.

A third WDC-backed bill, Senate Bill 170, known as the Judicial Right to Know bill, was passed this afternoon on a 19-14 vote.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Your Party. Delivered.

So the head of the state Democratic Party is a lobbyist for AT&T. Talk about your metaphors.

The news that Joe Wineke has joined the telecommunication giant's stable of hired guns evokes memories of the reaction to a shameful and scandalous episode in another time and place. As they said then, "say it ain't so, Joe."