Tuesday, June 30, 2009

GAB To Sue Eight Legislative Candidates For Not Filing Campaign Reports

A state agency plans to sue four legislators and four unsuccessful legislative candidates claiming they have not filed year-end 2008 campaign finance reports due five months ago.

The four legislators are incumbent Democratic Representatives Tamara Grigsby, Annette Williams and Christine Sinicki and Republican Representative Scott Newcomer. The four others, who lost in the 2008 primary or general elections, were Republicans Jess Kufahl, David Nickel and Jason LaSage and Democrat Perry Duman.

Campaign finance reports for these and 14 other candidates were the subject of a first-ever open records request asking the Government Accountability Board to make the records - due February 2 - available to the public or investigate the candidates for breaking state campaign finance laws.

The availability and accuracy of campaign finance reports for dozens of 2008 legislative candidates have been a problem for months because of the board's new electronic filing system implemented last fall. Reports generated by the system have been fraught with problems that include incorrect fundraising and spending totals, wrongly identified expenditures, and contributions and expenditures listed multiple times.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Prosser Not Hearing Jensen Appeal

UPDATE: A spokesman for the Wisconsin Supreme Court notified our office today that Justice David Prosser is not participating in the court's review of former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen's appeal of lower court rulings that his retrial must be held in Dane County, not his home county of Waukesha as he desires.

No word yet on whether Justice Prosser plans to once again serve as a character witness for Jensen. Pertinent to this issue is the Supreme Court's own rule, SCR 60.03(2), which states: "A judge may not allow family, social, political or other relationships to influence the judge's judicial conduct or judgment. A judge may not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or of others or convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge. A judge may not testify voluntarily as a character witness (emphasis added)."

The plain meaning of this rule prohibits a judge like Justice Prosser from lending the prestige of his office and the court to advance the private interests of a defendant like Scott Jensen. And it clearly prohibits any judge subject to this state rule from voluntarily testifying as a character witness. Which begs the question, is there such a thing as an unwilling character witness?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Which Justices Will Decide Jensen's Fate This Time?

For the second time, the Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear an appeal by Scott Jensen as the surrealistically drawn-out saga of corruption charges against the former Assembly speaker stretches well into its seventh year.

Jensen was originally charged in October 2002, and it was back in early 2005 when the high court first agreed to hear an appeal in this case. That time, Jensen was joined by other legislators caught up in the Capitol scandal as well as a former aide in an attempt to have the charges against them dismissed. The court barely had a quorum to take up the case because three justices recused themselves due to close personal or political ties to the defendants.

A fourth - Justice Patrick Crooks - heard the appeals despite having had Jensen as his campaign manager in 1995 and 1996. Crooks also received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Jensen's campaign committees and the justice's campaign finance reports listed payments of nearly $27,000 to a firm run by Jensen's wife for campaign work. More on that in a bit.

The court ultimately rejected the appeals and allowed the charges to stand. Jensen was eventually convicted and sentenced to prison, but his conviction was later overturned on a technicality in November 2007 and he was granted a new trial. Jensen has been trying ever since to get the location of the new trial switched from Dane County, where the crimes he's accused of are alleged to have occurred, to his home county of Waukesha. Two lower courts have turned him down, but now the Supreme Court will review those rulings.

At least two justices have no business participating in this decision. Justice Crooks has the aforementioned conflicts of interest. And Justice David Prosser served with Jensen in the Assembly where the two were close political allies. Moreover, Prosser agreed to serve as a character witness for Jensen in his first trial. He called Jensen a "person of the highest integrity" whom he had "always trusted." He went on to say Jensen is an "honest person and a fair person" and when asked during cross-examination if his opinion of Jensen would change if he knew Jensen lied in interviews with law enforcement officials, Prosser simply said "no."

What's more, Prosser admitted that when he was Assembly speaker he engaged in the same conduct that Jensen is being prosecuted for.

There is no way in hell either Prosser or Crooks should be anywhere in the room when the Supreme Court hears this latest appeal and then decides where the second trial of Scott Jensen will take place.

Friday, June 12, 2009

113 Million Reasons Why Not

The need for health care reform in America is obvious. It's long past time for action, yet Washington has been paralyzed. The fact that 46 million Americans are without health insurance and some 28 million are underinsured has yet to stir the nation's politicians.

The fact that insurance costs have played no small role in the demise of the American automobile industry has yet to infuse them with the courage of conviction.

The fact that providing health coverage is a crushing burden to small businesses that is stunting the growth of the national economy's most powerful engine hasn't done the trick either.

Why not?

Oh, the politicians in Washington have their reasons. Millions of them. Like the $47 million in campaign contributions federal candidates received from the insurance industry in 2008 alone. And the $29 million in donations pharmaceutical companies gave to federal politicians for last year's election. And then there's the nearly $23 million national office seekers got in 2008 from the hospitals and other for-profit health facilities. Another $14 million was dumped into campaign coffers last year by the HMOs and other health service gatekeepers.

That's a total of $113 million. One hundred and thirteen million reasons why Washington hasn't yet been moved by the heart-wrenching stories of countless people dying needlessly for lack of access to medical care and countless others driven to financial ruin simply because they had the misfortune of getting sick.

One hundred and thirteen million reasons why the best and most efficient solution to our country's broken health care system has been kept off the table.

One hundred and thirteen million reasons why the richest nation on earth turns a blind eye to pain and suffering and economic calamity, and why its leaders put the profits of the few ahead of the needs of the many.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Political Lightning Delays Play

UPDATE: Shortly after the Democracy Campaign posted a blog about a June 15 mega fundraiser, numerous media reports and editorials condemned the event and prompted Assembly Democratic leaders to postpone it until after the legislature finishes its work on the 2009-11 state budget.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Assembly Democrats' Fundraiser Appears Out Of Bounds

If their own rules are followed, one of the Assembly Democrats' biggest fundraisers of the year is going to be void of Assembly Democrats.

The June 15 event is at the Wild Rock Golf Club at Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells. Contributors who want to play will pay $1,000 each, or $3,350 per foursome. Duffers who want to pay but not play can still get involved by sponsoring a hole for $750 or the entire event for $1,000. In addition to the outrageous fees - a.k.a. required campaign contributions - it's offering outrageous hole-in-one prizes to the well-heeled special interests and lobbyists who attend - $50,000 and a new Chevy Tahoe.

A notice about the event says its special guest will be Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan along with "other reps and guests."

Here's the problem. Last February the Assembly passed a rule banning its 99 Republican and Democratic members from holding fundraisers or even accepting or soliciting campaign contributions "during the period beginning on the day the biennial budget bill is introduced and ending on the date the biennial budget bill is presented to the Governor."

Sheridan said this week the Assembly plans to take up the budget June 10 and send it to the Senate shortly thereafter. However, Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker said the Senate doesn't plan to take up the budget until the third week in June. On top of that if the Senate changes the Assembly's version of the budget in any way, a committee of legislators from both houses will meet to hammer out a compromise budget that must be approved without changes by both houses before it is sent to the governor.

The golf fundraiser is sponsored by the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee, which is one of four legislative campaign committees controlled by Democratic and Republican Assembly and Senate leaders to soak special interests for campaign cash. These committees, which were exempt from the fundraising ban, raise money to help their respective caucus members get elected.

But the rule commendably spearheaded by majority Democrats clearly prohibits Assembly members from raising money for their own campaigns as well as soliciting cash for other committees that could provide them with election year resources.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Journalism In Retreat

My, how things have changed.

A white elephant of a computer project, badly bungled by a state agency. The public denied access for four months to records detailing how politicians raised and spent money. The kind of stuff newspapers and other media would have been all over five years ago or, hell, even a year ago.

On Monday, the Democracy Campaign did something we've never before had to do. We filed an open records request to try to get our hands on about two dozen missing campaign finance reports that were supposed to be submitted by office holders and candidates for state office and made available for public inspection at the end of January. Not a single newspaper in the state wrote a word about it. Radio and television ignored the story, too, with the exception of one lonely community radio station in Madison.

People used to complain about "pack journalism," when seemingly the entire press corps would chase the same story, intensely competing to scoop each other and going to extreme lengths to unearth a new wrinkle or different dimension to a story. Today we have the opposite extreme on display. No one is telling a good many stories the public needs to know about.

We're in deep trouble. Ignorance and democracy are not compatible.