Thursday, April 29, 2010

When Breaking The Law Is No Longer News

For years, we have been using our searchable database of campaign money to identify donors who exceed the legal limit on contributions. We issued another such report yesterday. No news organization in the state wrote so much as a word about our findings, save one college newspaper.

The phone used to ring off the hook when we called attention to these violations in the past. Maybe the change has to do with the decline of newspapers and the general shrinkage of the Capitol news corps. Or maybe it's something else. But I couldn't help but notice that the media started treating this as a non-story a couple of years ago when one of the wealthy donors we flagged screamed bloody murder, accusing me of "smearing" him and his wife with a "tar brush." Only the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel made mention of our findings, and that was limited to a blog posting. Other media organizations wouldn't touch it.

After investigating our charge the state Government Accountability Board found that the donor, John Brogan of Green Bay, did indeed violate the law and the board fined him and his wife Gisela $1,350 each. The GAB's action wasn't made public until almost a year and a half after we issued our report and Brogan threw his hissy fit. To my knowledge, there were no news accounts of the board's handling of the matter.

This past year, we called attention to a bunch more donors that appeared to have given more than state law allows. This time, the investigative turnaround was just over five months and the GAB handed out stiff fines to seven individuals we flagged. That wasn't news either.

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