In one of the last acts of a do-nothing agency, the State Elections Board has again failed the public.
At its September 12th meeting the board took up the cases of 27 wealthy contributors identified by the Democracy Campaign as having violated the $10,000 annual limit on campaign contributions to state and local candidates. These folks each contributed between $10,100 and $17,250 to candidates for statewide office and the Legislature in 2006.
But as has been the board's track record, many of them got off scot-free and the remainder virtually scot-free.
One batch of the violators was allowed to declare - after the fact - that half of their contributions actually came from their spouses because the contributions were drawn from a joint bank account. That means someone who signed contribution checks totaling $11,000 but didn't specifically say at the time that these are joint contributions can now split that total with their spouse and fall under the $10,000 legal limit.
Can you imagine how much drunken driving violations would fall if police let this happen when someone exceeded the .08 blood alcohol limit? "Hey officer, I know I blew a .14 blood alcohol, but I want to split that with my spouse, so I really only have a .07."
The other batch of violators falls into a category described in the legal counsel's memo to the board as "persons who were not aware of the $10,000 limit; (not having exceeded it before), would not have exceeded it had they known; and will not exceed it again." They were fined $100 plus 10 percent of the amount that exceeded the $10,000 limit.
One of those who used the "I-know-nothing" defense caught our eye - Michael W. Grebe, who contributed $10,100 in 2006.
Grebe has been a powerful player in both state and national Republican Party politics and a steady contributor to Wisconsin political candidates for a long time. Retired chairman and CEO of Foley & Lardner, the state's largest law firm, Grebe served on the Republican National Committee for 18 years and was one of its managers for two GOP presidential conventions. He was a close adviser to former four-term Republican Governor Tommy Thompson and has contributed $45,300 to Republican candidates in Wisconsin since 1993.
What's really going on - again - is this board of appointed political hacks is bending over backwards to avoid offending wealthy contributors and powerful special interests that make contributions to the politicians who appointed them. Thankfully, this board is on its way out.