Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ding Dong, The Glitch Is Dead!

The Big Glitch, otherwise known as the state of Wisconsin's ill-fated contract with the global outsourcing firm Accenture to create a computerized statewide voter registration system, is history. The state Elections Board announced today it has reached an agreement ending the state's relationship with Accenture on the voter-list project.

A lot of time has been wasted and a whole lot of taxpayer money has gone down this rathole, but this deal does recoup some of the damages and allows the state to begin picking up the pieces and putting them back together so Wisconsin can have a voter registration system that works properly.

This should have happened a long time ago, but better late than never. This is a good day-after-Christmas present.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Cozy With A Capital C

First, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen decided that the Department of Justice he leads would not appeal the decision reversing Scott Jensen's felony convictions and granting the former Assembly speaker a new trial. Now he's saying that Jensen shouldn't be retried but rather the case should be settled through a plea agreement.

At the bottom of the story in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, it says "Van Hollen conceded that he could indirectly influence Blanchard's decision to retry Jensen by denying the district attorney resources he had during the first trial, including the courtroom help of Assistant Attorney General Roy Korte, one of the Justice Department's most experienced prosecutors. "


What makes all this more curious is the fact that the second in command at the Justice Department, Van Hollen's hand-picked deputy Ray Taffora, used to represent Jensen. Jensen hired Taffora and his law firm to negotiate with the prosecutor in hopes of ending at least part of the investigation. And Taffora's firm also was paid to negotiate a settlement with the state Ethics Board and Elections Board.

Before that, Jensen hired Taffora and his firm to help him and his fellow Assembly Republicans with legislative redistricting.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Are They Listening? Can They Hear?

State politicians are owned by the lobbyists and the special interest groups, don't give a whit about what average citizens want or need, and generally seem to rank somewhere between used car salesmen and child molesters in the public's estimation, according to the latest polling by the conservative Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.

A measly 2% of Wisconsin residents believe they can trust state government to do what is right almost all the time. Who determines what state government spends? Eighty-two percent say lobbying groups do and only 12% believe it's the voters. When asked whether the standard of ethics of members of the state legislature has changed over the last decade, only 6% think it has changed for the better, while 44% think it has gotten worse.

WPRI also asked state residents whose interests they think their elected officials represent the most – their interests, special interests or the politicians' own interests. A mere 10% think their elected officials represent the voters’ interests, while 43% think they're working for the special interests and 42% think state politicians are just looking out for their own self-interest.

WPRI concludes that "something extraordinary is happening in Wisconsin." Specifically, the group says: "Years of political neglect by their elected officials are beginning to have a serious toll on the confidence of Wisconsin residents in elected officials and their state government. The lack of optimism is seen in all aspects of life in Wisconsin today, whether it is the state’s economy, the ethics of state government and elected officials or the dominance of lobbying in the political process. Wisconsin residents are extremely unhappy and becoming more and more disconnected from their government and the state’s politics. . . . The issues of lobbying, state ethics and the state’s economy has never been more on the mind of Wisconsin residents. It would not be surprising if, in 2008, Wisconsin voters send a message that will be even louder than the one sent in 2006."

Are state lawmakers listening? Do they even care what the public thinks of them?

They'll answer these questions in January when they decide what to make of the special session on campaign reform.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

What Tipping The Scales Has Wrought

The state Supreme Court is in big trouble. It can't win for losing.

No matter how the Menasha Corporation tax case is decided, the public will never believe money didn't play a role in the outcome because Justice Annette Ziegler chose to participate even though a group involved in the case spent more than $2 million to get her elected. Justice Louis Butler also revealed he received a campaign donation from one of the attorneys working on the case.

And now the high court can't rule at all on a key economic development and land use case due to the fact Ziegler, who would have been the deciding vote, recused herself because of campaign contributions she received from the builders and the Realtors.

No wonder all seven justices signed a letter the other day begging the Legislature and governor to support publicly financed Supreme Court races.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The End Of The Beginning

The Legislature convened in special session briefly today and passed a joint resolution of both houses adjourning the special session on campaign finance reform until January 15. This was expected and is in keeping with the way the Democracy Campaign and others in the reform community believe the session should proceed.

Between now and January 15 reform plans need to be finalized and drafted for introduction as special session bills, public hearings need to be held and committee work needs to be done to set the stage for the full Legislature to reconvene the special session.

When the governor called the special session for December 11, many mistakenly interpreted that to mean lawmakers would vote on reform legislation today. Not only would that have been impractical but also highly inappropriate because the Legislature would have been voting on measures the public had not had a chance to review and comment on.

Any kind of meaningful overhaul of Wisconsin's broken campaign finance system can't be accomplished in a day. It's been 30 years since the last major reform. Even the most impatient among us can surely wait 30 days so whatever lawmakers do can be done right and done in full view of the public with plenty of citizen input.

Today was the start of the special session. How it began is not important. How it ends is what matters.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Hypocrisy, Spoken In Code

Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch responded to Governor Jim Doyle's call for a special session on campaign finance reform by saying he expects there will be a "thorough and informative debate in the Assembly" and reform ideas will "receive careful consideration in both houses of the Legislature."

Then he tipped everyone off about where he really stands when he said, "I share the concern of many Wisconsinites to the idea of changing the law to force them to pay for these campaigns."

Look for Huebsch and his allies to fiercely defend the ownership of our state government by the lobbyists and their special interest clients. Mind you, they won't come right out and say they have no problem with big donations from wealthy interests who expect lavish favors in return for their political gifts. They'll speak in code, like Huebsch did in his statement about the special session. They'll say they're bound and determined to prevent the general public from being forced to pay for elections.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Wisconsin taxpayers already are forced to pay for state election campaigns. We pay through the nose every time our elected state representatives approve a new tax break, or lace a budget bill with a few more slices of pork, or sign off on a sweetheart deal on a state contract. We pay for every favor, we pay every time our state lawmakers reward one of their big donors.

Saying that campaign finance reform should be resisted because taxpayers shouldn't be forced to pay for elections is not only supremely hypocritical but also is an insult to the intelligence of the people of Wisconsin.

The general public gets it. Average folks understand that their elected representatives are owned by the lobbyists and the big special interest donors. And average folks understand they are paying dearly for this corruption.

The debate that will start in the Legislature on December 11 has absolutely nothing to do with whether the public pays for elections. We will always pay, one way or another. The real issue, whether or not the Legislature chooses to debate it, is ownership. Who will own our state government? The wealthy donors, or the voters?