January 16, 2009
Despite the bitter, sub-zero temperatures engulfing Wisconsin this week, political reform managed to ignite on a number of fronts at the beginning of the 2009-2010 state legislative session. Two reforms first proposed by Common Cause in Wisconsin (CC/WI), and that we have been pushing for more than 12 years, have taken significant steps forward this week. And a major player criminally charged in the infamous Wisconsin Legislative Caucus Scandal more than six years ago in 2002, may finally be tried again as a motion in court that he filed and which was certain to be denied, was denied.
First, the new Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, State Rep. Mike Sheridan (D-Janesville) announced that the Assembly would consider and pass a rule in the very near future that will forbid individual members of that chamber from soliciting campaign contributions while the 2009-2010 bienium state budget is under consideration. The prohibition does not apply to the leadership legislative campaign committees that raised most of the legislative money during past budget sessions, nor does it preclude a legislator from accepting an unsolicted campaign contribution during the budget. No fund raising during the budget ought to be just that--no fund raising at all during while the state budget is in play. CC/Wisconsin will work with pro-reform legislators to get a more comprehensive ban measure introduced.
Nevertheless, it is a good start for campaign finance reform and a welcome initiative from the new Assembly leader. CC/WI first suggested this reform to then-State Senator Lynn Adleman (D-Waukesha) who included it in a reform package introduced almost exactly 12 years ago, in 1997. Since then we have been relentless in pushing for this reform and all the effort is finally showing some positive result. And the support for this reform has been bipartisan. During the last sesssion of the Legislature, State Rep. Mark Gottlieb (R-Port Washington) and State Senator Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) introduced the complete campaign fund raising ban during the budget that Wisconsin needs and that we trust the new Assembly leadership will embrace after the implementation of this ban on individual fund raising. For more information on this develpment go here: Assembly Democrats to ban fundraising during budget
Another long-sought reform that CC/WI first began advocating for a dozen years ago, moved forward in the Government Accountability Board this week when that relatively new state watchdog agency (which was first devised by Senator Mike Ellis (R-Neenah), Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) and Rob Cowles (R-Allouez) with CC/WI back in 2002), forwarded an administrative rule that would require outside organizations who currently run campaign communications masquerading as issue advocacy, to report the names of the donors who pay for those communications and to use regulated sources of money to pay for them. This reform measure, which must now be approved by the Legislature, would close the single largest loophole in Wisconsin's campaign finance law. In 1997, CC/WI was the first state reform organization to push for this reform when it testified in front of the old State Elections Board. After years of struggle, this reform is on the verge of becoming law: Agency supports change in 'issue ads'
Finally, and to absolutely no one's surprise, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals rejected an attempt to have the re-trial for felony misconduct in public office of former State Rep. Scott Jensen (R-Town of Brookfield) while he was the Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly (1997-2002), moved from Madison to his home county of Waukesha. Jensen was tried and convicted by a Dane County Jury in early 2006 but his conviction was thrown out on a technicality because of faulty jury instructions from the trial judge. Jensen has been stringing out the legal process since then most recently by arguing that a provision included in the law creating the new state Government Accountability Board in 2007 stipulates that a legislator can be tried in his or her home county rather than in the county where offenses were commited -- as must be the case with every other citizen of the state. But what was obivious to everyone and which the Court of Appeals said this week was that Jensen is charged with criminal offenses that occurred in the late 1990's and early 2000's and was charged in October of 2002 -- well in advance of the creation of the Government Accountability Board in early 2007. So having his new trial moved to Waukesha County is not an option. Nevertheless, lawyers for Jensen will stall the beginning of the new trial even longer by appealing this week's court decision to the Wisconsin Supreme Court -- which will almost certainly issue the same decision. In this case justice delayed (and delayed and delayed) is justice denied. For more on this see: Jensen Gets New Trial
Perhaps political reform fares best when the temperature in Wisconsin dips below zero. If that is the case, then we are hoping for a long and very cold few weeks and months ahead!