Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A crisis and an opportunity



A W
isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
June 28, 2009

By Bill Kraus

The Wisconsin budget crisis is behind us to the extent it isn’t ahead of us due to latent structural deficits. The governor can veto out some pork and whatever additions offend him, but it is fundamentally his baby.

As agonizing as recession politics are, which are characterized by the worst of all worlds--lower income and higher cost--they do offer opportunities to rethink and rearrange the status quo. The status quo one should remember is not an accident. Someone put it there. And those someones are mobilized to make sure it stays put. The most serious threat to our democracy, as the NY Times Bill Safire pointed out 31 years ago, is hardening of the arteries.

Among the things on my unfulfilled wish list are:

1. The icon of local control of schools when most of the funding comes from elsewhere should be addressed. The state is putting up most of the money. The state should run the system. Set up a Department of Education as a cabinet office, fold DPI into it, and start running K-12 as the state system the Constitution envisioned.

2. How about turning the property tax into a series of fees for services and assess it on every piece of property that gets those services? Fire protection, police protection, waste collection, roads, and other vital services go to churches, non-profits, hospitals, everyone. Everyone should pay.

3. K-12 and vocational and technical education costs which are paid in part or in full with property taxes could be picked up by the state which has access to the almost equally unpopular income tax or the most popular of an unpopular category, the sales tax.

4. Wisconsin is awash in governmental units. What is it that towns do except conduct elections? Which brings up the parallel point that we have a ridiculous number of election districts in Wisconsin. Is it time to eliminate towns?

What about counties in metro areas. Isn't it time for us to have metro districts that fold in the suburbs and the cities and villages that are really part of the greater inter-dependent metro system?

6. Is it not time to extend the sales tax to services to recognize, among other things, that ours is increasingly a service economy. There’s a good excuse lying around for putting a sales tax on legal fees, to take one service at random. The money this would raise could be used in part to pay for court elections. This would eliminate the unsavory practice of lawyers paying to elect judges, and would have the desirable side effect for lawyers of not having to make those contributions. It may be more of a cost transference than a tax increase. Win-win.

7. There are minor cost savings available as well. All the work that the Constitution drafters assigned to offices like the secretary of state and the state treasurer has been taken over by the Department of Administration. These offices can be eliminated, which would require amending the Constitution over the dead bodies of the traditionalists from both parties. How about simply not funding them, which wouldn't?


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Friday, June 26, 2009

Government Accountability Board's "Sum Sufficient" Funding for Investigations Survives Budget Conference Committee


Press Release
June 26, 2009


CONTACT:

Jay Heck – 608/256-2686



COMMON SENSE PREVAILS IN CONFERENCE COMMITTEE:
INDEPENDENT FUNDING FOR INVESTIGATIONS BY GOVERNMENT
ACCOUNTABILITY BOARD PRESERVED


Common sense and good public policy -- with regard to funding for investigations by the Government Accountability Board (GAB) for investigations -- prevailed last evening in the Conference Committee between Assembly and State Senate leadership to resolve the differences between the two legislative chambers in versions of the biennium state budget passed last week.

The Conference Committee opted to retain current law and reject an amendment contained in the Senate-passed version that would have stripped "sum sufficient" funding for GAB investigations, thereby undermining its independence and ability to investigate possible wrongdoing without legislative interference and "approval."

By this action, the effectiveness and independent integrity of the GAB is preserved.

Common Cause in Wisconsin is grateful to its many members and other citizens who expressed their outrage over this amendment. Also instrumental in preserving the independence and integrity of GAB were the many newspapers in the state who weighed in against the Senate Amendment, including the Wisconsin State Journal, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Green Bay Press Gazette, The Capital Times, Janesville Gazette, Sheboygan Press, Appleton Post Cresent, Oshkosh Nortwestern, Wausau Daily Herald (this morning) and others (apologies if I neglected to mention you by name).

Thanks also to the Assembly leadership for standing against the amendment and to those State Senators who opposed it.

The State Senate passed the Conference Committee report very early this morning and sent it to the Assembly where it will receive an up or down vote, sometime late today or early Saturday.


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Monday, June 22, 2009

Senator Decker's Misguided Amendment to Eviscerate the Government Accountability Board Must Not Prevail


Press Release
June 22, 2009


CONTACT:

Jay Heck – 608/256-2686




DECKER'S AMENDMENT TO CRIPPLE GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY BOARD'S ABILITY TO INVESTIGATE CORRUPTION MUST GO

* * *

ASSEMBLY LEADERS AND GOVERNOR SHOULD CALL FOR DECKER TO DROP MISGUIDED SENATE BUDGET AMENDMENT


What was State Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker (D-Weston) thinking? Or why was he not thinking when he inserted his outrageous amendment in the State Senate budget passed last Wednesday evening that would hamstring the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board's ability to mount and/or continue an investigation into government corruption -- particularly if the wrongdoing is happening in the Wisconsin Legislature?

Russ Decker and his staff were around when the Legislative Caucus Scandal occurred. Decker knew that the Government Accountability Board (GAB) was devised by Senator Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) with assistance from Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) and Common Cause in Wisconsin (CC/WI) in the months immediately following the criminal chargings for felony misconduct in public office for illegal campaign fund raising of then-State Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala (D-Madison), State Senator Brian Burke (D-Milwaukee), Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen (R-Town of Brookfield), Assembly Majority Leader Steve Foti (R-Oconomowoc), and Assistant Majority Leader Bonnie Ladwing (R-Mount Pleasant) in Wisconsin's biggest and darkest political scandal in modern history. Decker even voted for final passage of legislation to establish the Government Accountability Board and its key component -- independent "sum sufficient" funding for investigations not subject to control by the Legislature.

So what was Decker thinking? His spokesperson, Carrie Lynch -- a long time Capitol insider -- issued explanations that no one in the press or anyone who cares about honest, clean, accountable state government could find credible. Here's one: “Many people felt [the board] needed to justify their budget like everyone else.” What people? Names please! The GAB is being subject to the same cuts to its budget as all other agencies. The GAB investigations are separate because they have to be in order for the GAB to be able to investigate without legislative interference -- the whole point of establishing this new agency! Their spending beyond that for GAB staff for investigations has been little - under $50,000. Who, other than Russ Decker, felt this need to eviscerate the GAB's ability to ferret out corruption?

And here is yet another Lynch "defense" of the indefensible Decker amendment:
"The only thing this does is put a dollar figure on what is spent. It does not limit their ability to do anything. The provision means that the GAB would use the same process that other agencies use to request more money.The Legislature does them all the time when state agencies need more money for a particular item. These requests are almost always granted."

How stupid does Lynch think we are? She is saying that GAB will have to come before the Legislature to request money to investigate the Legislature! That's the whole point. The GAB was specifically formed to have funding independent of the control and whim of the Legislature for investigations! Eliminate that independent funding source and you render the GAB impotent -- which is perhaps what Decker wants to do. But he should not and must not be allowed to get away with it.

If he has not done so over the weekend in secret conversations with the Assembly, Senator Decker should apologize to the citizens of Wisconsin and just drop this ill-advised, misbegotten scheme and move on. And if he hasn't or won't drop it, then Assembly Democratic leaders and Governor Jim Doyle should declare the Decker amendment "out of bounds" and off the table as a precondition to working out the rest of the differences in the budget between the two legislative chambers. On Friday morning, one powerful Democratic legislator told CC/WI that the Decker amendment "makes us [Democrats] look horrible." Well yes. And worse. It makes a mockery of the establishment of the GAB.

* * *

When Mark Pitsch and the Wisconsin State Journal first uncovered and reported this incredibly shocking stunt early Thursday morning, CC/WI jumped on it immediately. We talked to reporters, editorial page editors and legislators-- immediately putting the heat on to get rid of this outrageous proposal.

On Thursday morning we issued this statement which resulted in an article in the statewide Associated Press: Senate Budget Limits Funding For Investigations with CC/WI's "take" on the Decker Amendment, an article in the Wisconsin State Journal, and on the statewide Wisconsin Radio Network, this news story: Budget item could hamper investigations. And then there was this story Friday morning by Shawn Johnson over Wisconsin Public Radio: Senate provision would affect financial independence of GAB.

We also consulted with the State Journal for their Friday editorial: Don't go back to bad old days at Wisconsin State Capitol, and with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for their Sunday editorial: A budget in need of nips, tucks and major surgery -- which listed the Decker provision crippling the GAB as the first item to "delete." Other newspapers have joined in the condemnation of the Decker Amendment. None have come to its defense.

Steve Walters, the State Capitol bureau chief of the Journal Sentinel wrote about the Decker amendment: Senators vote to control watchdog's budget. On Friday evening, CC/WI condemned the Decker Amendment on Wisconsin Public Television's program, Here and Now.

CC/WI also commented extensively on the secretive, closed-door character of the shaping of the state budget, even as it nears the end game, for Associated Press: Democrats might reach deal on budget in secret.

And on Up Front, the news and public affairs program hosted by Mike Gousha for WISN - TV in Milwaukee, and broadcast on television all over Wisconsin, CC/WI talked about that shameful budget process and the chances for meaningful campaign finance reform this year (which are good!) in a five-minute segment that you can watch here: Budget Passed With Closed-Door Meetings.

Your reactions and comments? Stay tuned to see how this "Decker drama" is resolved. We cannot imagine that Decker will not be forced to withdraw his shameful measure.



Jay Heck
Executive Director
Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson Street, Suite 212
Madison, WI 53703

Want Good Government? Join Common Cause in Wisconsin!
Call 608/256-2686
Website: www.commoncausewisconsin.org
E-Mail Address: ccwisjwh@itis.com



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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Friendly disagreements



A W
isconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
June 21, 2009

By Bill Kraus

David Carley’s memorial service brought back most of the surviving relics of the 1960s and 1970s, including me.

My earliest association with Dave was in 1977. He and I co-chaired Martha Bablitch’s 1978 campaign for a seat on one of the newly created courts of appeals.

While we occasionally pitched in--if asked--with advice and reassurances, our main role was to bi-partisanize the candidate’s image and behavior. All judicial candidates who came to their campaigns with a partisan history knew it was necessary to cleanse their candidacy by a show of bi-partisanship.

This representation was considered particularly important for supreme and appeals court races. Former governor Pat Lucey and former Republican state party chairman Ody Fish, later replaced by former governor Lee Dreyfus, played the parts that David Carley and I were cast for in Martha’s campaign in several court campaigns.

What a concept. Sometime between then and now, however, the people running campaigns found de-partisanizing unnecessary.

That was bad. What was infinitely worse was that the talk broadcast media weighed in with their mandate that it was not enough for Democrats and Republicans to disagree with one another they had to dislike each other as well. The wedge-addicted mercenaries who were running campaigns wanted philosophical adversaries to be personal enemies.

The week of the Carley memorial I experienced another example of the politics of the past when Judge John Shabaz showed up at the Avenue Bar for lunch at the “has beens” table and exchanged pleasantries and reminiscences with a collection of former journalists and pols with whom he was at war during his entire political career.

Almost all the people at that table may have hated John’s politics. They liked the man. They admired his talent and tenacity. And vice versa.

Is it possible to get past--or rid of--the media zealots and the wedging mercenaries and regain our civility and mutual respect for the participants in the honorable trade of politics?




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Thursday, June 18, 2009

State Senate - Passed Budget Bill Provision Undermines Power of Government Accountability Board to Investigate Wrongdoing in State Government


Press Release
June 18, 2009


CONTACT:

Jay Heck – 608/256-2686




STATE SENATE PASSED BUDGET CONTAINS
PROVISION THAT COULD
IMPEDE STATE INVESTIGATIONS OF GOVERNMENT CORRUPTION


The Wisconsin State Senate last night passed its version of the $62.5 billion state budget. Contained in that document is an extremely troubling provision that could hamper the ability of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) to mount and sustain an investigation into government corruption and other wrongdoing - the very type of corruption that produced the biggest political scandal in Wisconsin's modern history - the Legislative Caucus Scandal of 2002.

The provision in the Senate budget strips away the "sum sufficient" funding -- which means basically all that is necessary -- for investigations into wrongdoing. Instead the GAB would be required to go to the Legislature to beg for funding to mount or continue an investigation -- which might be of members of the Legislature!

In October 2002, Senator Michael Ellis (R-Neenah), working with Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) and Common Cause in Wisconsin -- in the wake of criminal chargings of the top legislative leadership for illegal campaign fund raising in the Capitol -- devised the concept of an independent agency - the GAB - which would be able to ferret out corruption and wrongdoing without having to plea for the funding from the Legislature to be effective. The ability of the GAB to be able to investigate totally free from fiscal constraints and conditions placed on it by the Legislature was the cornerstone to this fundamental state government reform. The provision added and passed in the State Senate yesterday, undermines it completely.

To reiterate: this provision (below) added in the Senate Budget undermines the independence of the GAB and could hamstring investigations into felony misconduct in public office -- which the top legislative leaders of both political parties were charged with in 2002.

Assembly leaders must insist that this provision be deleted from the budget when they meet with the Senate leadership next week to begin to iron out differences in the budget between the two chambers.

Here is the provision in question:

Page 18: http://www.legis.state.wi.us/lfb/2009-11Budget/2009_06_18_Senate.pdf

2. CONVERSION OF INVESTIGATIONS GPR SUM SUFFICIENT APPROPRIATION
Convert the investigations GPR sum sufficient appropriation to an annual appropriation.
The appropriation authorizes the Government Accountability Board to expend GPR for the purpose of financing the costs of investigations authorized by the Board for alleged violations of state election laws, ethics laws, lobbying laws, and campaign finance laws. As a sum sufficient appropriation, the Board is not limited to expending the amounts identified in the Chapter 20 schedule for the appropriation ($31,100 GPR annually under Joint Finance). Rather, the Board is authorized to expend the amounts necessary to accomplish these purposes. The amount in the Chapter 20 schedule represents an estimate of these costs that may be incurred by the Board. Converting the appropriation to an annual appropriation would limit the Board to expending no more than $31,100 GPR annually for investigation costs, or seeking additional funding under s. 13.10 or through separate legislation if costs exceed this amount.



Jay Heck
Executive Director
Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson Street, Suite 212
Madison, WI 53703
Want Good Government? Join Common Cause in Wisconsin!
Call 608/256-2686
Website: www.commoncausewisconsin.org
E-Mail Address: ccwisjwh@itis.com


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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Phony Issue Ad Disclosure and "Impartial Justice" Reform Legislation Both Win Votes in Assembly Committee



Press Release
June 16, 2009


CONTACT:

Jay Heck – 608/256-2686




MAJOR CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM LEGISLATION
PASSES IN ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE

Full Assembly Likely to Vote on Measures in September

Major campaign finance reform legislation strongly supported by Common Cause in Wisconsin (CC/WI) passed today in the the Assembly Elections and Campaign Reform Committee and is now ready for scheduling and consideration by the full Wisconsin Assembly -- most likely when it next holds a floor session in September.

The first measure to be passed was ASSEMBLY BILL 63, introduced by Rep. Kristen Dexter (D-Eau Claire), that would require the disclosure of donors and regulation of money used in currently undisclosed, unregulated campaign communications masquerading as issue advocacy, better known as "phony issue ads." These measures would apply only to widely disseminated communications that run 60 days or less prior to an election. This legislation, first proposed and devised by CC/WI in 1997, would close the single largest loophole in Wisconsin's currently loophole-ridden campaign finance laws.

The vote in the committee was a strong, bipartisan 6 to 1. Voting for the measure were Democratic State Representatives Jeff Smith of Eau Claire (Chair of the committee), Rep. Jim Soletski of Green Bay (Vice Chair), Rep. Fred Kessler of Milwaukee and Rep. Kelda Roys of Madison. Republicans voting for the measure were Rep. Don Pridemore of Hartford and Rep. Roger Roth of Appleton. The lone vote against AB 63 was Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale). Rep. Annette Williams (D-Milwaukee) was absent.

The second measure to be passed was ASSEMBLY BILL 65, introduced by Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) and Rep. Steve Hilgenberg (D-Dodgeville), which is better known as the "Impartial Justice" bill. It would provide full public financing to qualified candidates for the State Supreme Court who voluntarily agree to abide by spending limits totaling $400,000.

The vote on this measure was closer, 4 to 3 with the four Democrats voting yes and the three Republicans opposing it. Rep. Roger Roth expressed concern about the funding mechanism in the measure which would raise the current one dollar check-off on the state income tax form to three dollars -- with two of those three dollars to be used for public financing of Supreme Court elections. Roth, Rep. Don Pridemore and Rep. Jeff Stone all thought that not enough revenue would be raised in that way to fully fund the grants of $400,000. But Rep. Smith said that he favors a more varied funding mechanism than that which was contained in AB 65 and that changes to address some of the Republican concerns could be made when the legislation was considered by the full Assembly.

Both campaign finance reform measures await votes in the State Senate Committee on Campaign Finance Reform which is chaired by Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee). CC/WI will be pressing for that to occur so that the State Senate will consider and pass them in September at about the same time the Assembly does.

For a more thorough explanation of what each of these measures does, you can read CC/WI's written testimony on AB 63 and AB 65 here.




Jay Heck
Executive Director
Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson Street, Suite 212
Madison, WI 53703

Want Good Government? Join Common Cause in Wisconsin!
Call 608/256-2686
Website: www.commoncausewisconsin.org
E-Mail Address: ccwisjwh@itis.com


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SEEDS of Discontent



A Wisconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
June 14, 2009

By Bill Kraus

There were small stories in the Journal Sentinel and Milwaukee Magazine recently about an easily overlooked obituary.

The deceased is an idea called SEED (School for Educational Evolution and Development).

I was a witness to its Wisconsin birth a couple of years ago.

SEED was invented in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore a few years ago.

It is a boarding school which takes students at random from poverty-stricken and otherwise non-functioning areas in the city and gives them a boarding school opportunity.

The students come to school at 8 a.m. on Mondays and go back home at 8 p.m. on Fridays if there is a home to go to. If not, they stay at the school full time.

As you can imagine, this is not cheap. It costs something like $30,000 per student (more than three times the per-student costs in public schools) and a facility has to be built to house them as well.

The reasons the Milwaukee leaders who listened to a presentation about SEED greeted the idea more warmly than one would imagine is the results it was producing in the east. Almost 100 percent of the students finish high school. More than 80 percent go on to college, where they also succeed. And, best of all, many if not most of them return to the places they came from when they entered the SEED program where they become role models and leaders for the larger community.

All of a sudden $30,000 per student--which compares favorably with the cost of incarceration in Wisconsin--didn’t seem so expensive after all.

The Milwaukee audience whose members have been desperately seeking solutions to the cultural, educational, social problems of that city finally felt that they were seeing an idea that might work.

It was expensive. It would take a very long time to get to speed. It attracted the best and brightest and most eager teachers. It offered hope.

The gestation period did not go smoothly. The first entrepreneur to step forward stepped aside to pursue another opportunity and then went away. His successor picked up the pieces, but before he could put them back together all of the people and organizations who would have to come up with the money were much less affluent than they had been. Worse yet, the state, which was looking for this kind of a solution for its largest and troubled city, had fiscal troubles of its own.

There were also rumors that the teachers’ unions were not enthusiastic and perhaps there were dissidents from the policy, from the idea itself, but the immediate cause of death was money-starvation. Governor Jim Doyle called SEED a “wonderful thing” but unaffordable right now.

One of its enthusiasts says “the governor killed it.”

No matter. The governor, the economy, the expense, the city, whoever or whatever, the sad fact is that SEED is dead. The cancer for which it might have offered a cure is not. Mourn its passing.



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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Major Campaign Finance Reform Measures to Move Next Tuesday

Press Release
June 9, 2009


CONTACT:

Jay Heck – 608/256-2686




CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM MEASURES TO GET COMMITTEE
VOTE NEXT WEEK

Assembly Shows Responsiveness in Acting on Reform and Postponing
A Major Campaign Fund Raising Event

The Wisconsin State Assembly is demonstrating commendable initiative and responsiveness in considering and moving forward major campaign finance reform legislation strongly supported by CC/WI. On May 27th, the Assembly Elections and Campaign Reform Committee held a public hearing on the measures and will vote next Tuesday, June16th, on the measures. The Chair of the Committee, Rep. Jeff Smith (D-Eau Claire) has been a strong and responsive supporter of campaign finance reform.

The first measure to be voted on is ASSEMBLY BILL 63, introduced by Rep. Kristen Dexter (D-Eau Claire), that would require the disclosure of donors and regulation of money used in currently undisclosed, unregulated campaign communications masquerading as issue advocacy, better known as "phony issue ads." These measures would apply only to widely disseminated communications that run 60 days or less prior to an election. This legislation, first proposed and devised by CC/WI in 1997, would close the single largest loophole in Wisconsin's currently loophole-ridden campaign finance laws.

The second measure to be voted on is ASSEMBLY BILL 65, introduced by Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) and Rep. Steve Hilgenberg (D-Dodgeville), which is better known as the "Impartial Justice" bill. It would provide full public financing to qualified candidates for the State Supreme Court who voluntarily agree to abide by spending limits totaling $400,000.

To read CC/WI's written testimony on AB 63 and AB 65 go here.

To watch video excerpts of the testimony go here.

CC/WI has learned that if consideration of the state budget is not complete by next Tuesday, the committee votes on the two measure may have to be postponed. Consideration of the reform measures by the full Assembly would likely occur in September, when the Assembly will hold its next floor session after completion of the state budget.

The Assembly leadership also demonstrated commendable responsiveness in its reaction to intense criticism in scheduling a fund-raising golf outing for the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee next week while the budget is still under consideration in that chamber. This past Friday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on the fund raiser in this front page article on Saturday: Assembly Democrats to hold fund-raiser during budget deliberations ...

Yesterday, Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan and Assembly Majority Leader Tom Nelson made the wise decision to postpone the golf outing until after the Assembly was finished with the budget, which led to another front page article in this morning's Journal Sentinel: Assembly Democrats postpone golf fund-raiser.

CC/WI, which first proposed banning all campaign fund raising while the budget is being crafted back in 1997, is very pleased and grateful to Assembly leaders for doing the right thing and postponing their event.

Finally, the United States Supreme Court on Monday, ruled for the first time that elected judges must disqualify themselves from cases involving people who spend large amounts of money to put them on the bench. The Court said that the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution does play a role in judging the influence of money in judicial elections, and that money can lead to "actual bias." The ruling has tremendous implications for the role of money in Wisconsin's Supreme Court elections--which ought to boost even further the prospects for passage and enactment into law of Assembly Bill 65, the "Impartial Justice" measure.

For more on the federal decision and its Wisconsin implications click here.

To read the joint statement issued by CC/WI, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, go here.

___________________________________________________________________________________

Jay Heck
Executive Director
Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson Street, Suite 212
Madison, WI 53703

Want Good Government? Join Common Cause in Wisconsin!
Call 608/256-2686
Website: www.commoncausewisconsin.org
E-Mail Address: ccwisjwh@itis.com

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Starving the beast


A Wisconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
June 7, 2009

By Bill Kraus

There are some early signs that the new rules of the new "needs" economy, which is quickly and traumatically replacing the "wants" economy that we had all come to overindulge in, may extend to political donating and donations.

Advocacy organizations all seem to be hurting. This is hardly surprising because their contributors are no less immune to market shocks, housing realities, the precipitous drop in automobile industry driven jobs, and lots of trouble in discretionary market sectors generally.

Lobbyists and lobbying organizations are being asked to get along on less. Their clients may even decide that while their expertise and influence are needed, their role as bagmen is going to have to be curtailed.

This could spread.

A candidate is going to find it hard to convince a hard-pressed and less affluent constituency that he or she can't run a successful campaign without a multi-million dollar war chest which will be used to pay for an endless stream of evocative (as opposed to informative) television commercials and other annoyances like automated telephone appeals for money and/or votes.

Even the zealots with their emotional causes will find their appeals are not as effective when addressed to millionaires whose fortunes are impaired and to the rest of us who have hunkered down until and unless we get a bead on a suddenly unfathomable future. People are deciding that eating well or sending their kids to college is more important than whether gays get married, buying automatic weapons we can't afford, gaining icon status from icon-sized contributions, or any of the multitude of ideas large and small that we were willing to throw money at when money was a lot easier and more plentiful.

It may be wishful thinking, but the market may do what good reform ideas and worthy informers haven't been able to do.

The market seems to be saying no to the Hummer and McMansions.

Could lavishly endowed campaigns on issues and for and against candidates suffer the same fate?

The market as the ultimate reformer?

What an idea.


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Sunday, June 7, 2009




Common Cause in Wisconsin - In the News
June 2009

  • Jay Heck's victory for good government

    June 27, 2009 - Editorial, The Capital Times


    Rallied to the barricades by Common Cause in Wisconsin Executive Director Jay Heck, citizens and newspapers across the state successfully pressured the Legislature to preserve adequate funding for the Government Accountability Board to pursue investigations of official wrongdoing.

    State Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, D-Schofield, had attempted to alter the funding mechanism so that the GAB would be subject to legislative interference. Under Decker's scheme, the agency would have been placed in a position where it would have had to come to politicians like Decker to ask for funding to investigate the high crimes and misdemeanors of politicians like Decker.

    No, we're not accusing the majority leader of criminal wrongdoing, just pointing out that he connived to make it harder to identify and prosecute criminal wrongdoing by majority leaders and their ilk -- hardly an inconsequential matter when we consider that one of Decker's recent predecessors did some jail time.

    Decker's assault on the GAB was a recipe for disaster.

    Heck got the word out to Common Cause activists and their allies.

    He also informed newspapers that Decker's attempt to end "sum sufficient" funding for GAB investigations would "undermine the board's independence and ability to investigate possible wrongdoing."

    The Capital Times weighed in, which is no great surprise. But so too did newspapers from across the political and ideological spectrum, including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Green Bay Press-Gazette, the Janesville Gazette, the Sheboygan Press, the Appleton Post-Crescent, the Oshkosh Northwestern and the Wausau Daily Herald. Even the Wisconsin State Journal took time away from its usual griping about how the Legislature is not bending enough to big-business interests and did the right thing.

    The united front had an impact.

    The Legislature's Conference Committee brokered an agreement between the Assembly and Senate leadership to resolve the differences in versions of the biennium state budget each had passed. Assembly leaders played an essential role in getting Decker to back off. But no one should doubt that their task was made easier by the chorus of complaint that Jay Heck succeeded in raising.

  • Decker's decay of good government

    June 23, 2009 - Editorial, The Capital Times


  • June 21, 2009 - WISN

    Watch as CC/WI executive director Jay Heck explains why he is troubled by the state budget process, and discusses the more promising prospects for real campaign finance reform in Wisconsin on Up Front, the public affairs/news television program hosted by Mike Gousha.

  • Call lawmakers today and demand open budget process.

    June 20, 2009 - Editorial, Janesville Gazette


    Common Cause in Wisconsin director Jay Heck says, "Sen. Decker should apologize to the citizens of Wisconsin and just drop this ill-advised, misbegotten scheme and move on. And if he hasn't or won't drop it, then Assembly Democratic leaders and Gov. Jim Doyle should declare the Decker amendment 'out of bounds' and off the table as a precondition to working out the rest of the differences in the budget between the two legislative chambers."

  • Thumbs down on hamstringing the Government Accountability Board

    June 22, 2009 - Editorial, Janesville Gazette

  • Call lawmakers today and demand open budget process.

    June 20, 2009 - Editorial, Janesville Gazette


    Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, said the “outrageous” Senate action would “seriously impede” the board’s work.

  • Senate provision would affect financial independence of GAB

    June 19, 2009 - Shawn Johnson, WPR News

  • Don't go back to bad old days at Wisconsin state Capitol

    June 18, 2009 - Editorial, Wisconsin State Journal

  • Wis. Budget In Limbo Until At Least Tuesday

    June 18, 2009 - WCCO, Minneapolis, MN - Scott Bauer, Associated Press Writer


    Any negotiations on reaching a budget deal now should be done in the open in a conference committee, said Jay Heck, executive director of government watchdog group Common Cause in Wisconsin.

    "The less public it is, the less confidence citizens have in the end result," he said. "When citizens are left in the dark, they think the worst about the process."

  • Senate budget limits funding for investigations

    June 18, 2009 - WAOW, Wausau


    Common Cause Wisconsin director Jay Heck says the change undermines the independence of the board and could hamstring investigations.

  • State budget deal bought with earmarks

    June 16, 2009 - Steven Walters, the Journal Sentinel


    Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, said Assembly Democrats behaved just like Assembly Republicans, who controlled that half of the Legislature for a 14-year period that ended in January.

    Legislators of both parties have been adding "pork barrel" projects to state budgets for decades, Heck said.

    "Having been 14 years out of power creates a lot of pent-up desire and demand for goodies denied them when they were in the minority," Heck said. "Those two powerful factors overwhelmed any inclination to resist 'porking up' the budget."

    "The only difference is that there is less money to do so than in past budgets," Heck said.

  • Assembly Democrats postpone golf fund-raiser

    June 8, 2009 - Patrick Marley, the Journal Sentinel


    Assembly Democrats announced they were canceling the fund-raiser as they wrapped up a seven-hour closed-door meeting to discuss the state budget they hope to take up this week. The budget closes a record $6.6 billion shortfall over two years by cutting aid to state and local government and raising taxes by $2 billion.

    "Now they seem to understand that's bad politics," said Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin. "I applaud them for making the decision to cancel it. It demonstrates they're responsive to what the public thinks."

    Common Cause and other good-government groups cheered the Assembly in February for passing the ban, saying it removed the appearance that legislators would sell their votes to special interests. But those same groups said in recent days legislators looked like hypocrites for scheduling the fund-raiser.

  • Assembly Democrats to hold fund-raiser during budget deliberations, despite ban

    June 6, 2009 - Patrick Marley, the Journal Sentinel


    "An event like this is what makes people hate politics and (feel) cynical about politicians," said Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin.

    Heck and others who lobby for campaign finance reform have long contended that raising campaign cash during the budget process creates the appearance that special interests can buy budget provisions.

    Assembly Democrats said their ban doesn't apply to raising money for the committee, one of the main tools Democrats will use in next year's elections to try to protect their thin majority.

    Leaders are making "an end-run around their own rule," Heck said. "It's like they're trying to fool themselves and in the process, fooling nobody."

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Campaign Finance Reform Measures Should Be Passed This Summer/ Erpenbach-Ellis Comprehensive Reform Legislation is "Back"

Press Release
June 2, 2009


CONTACT:

Jay Heck – 608/256-2686



CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM MEASURES CAN AND
SHOULD BE PASSED IN THE LEGISLATURE THIS SUMMER


And

"ERPENBACH-ELLIS" COMPREHENSIVE REFORM MEASURE INTRODUCED LAST WEEK

Last week's teleconferenced, joint legislative committee public hearing on major campaign finance reform legislation -- held simultaneously in Eau Claire and in Madison -- was historic, setting the stage for movement toward passage and enactment into law the first significant reform of Wisconsin's currently ineffective and loop hole-ridden campaign finance law in more than 30 years.

There is some possibility that yet another joint public hearing may be held on one or both of the reform measures under consideration.

ASSEMBLY BILL 63 and Senate Bill 43 are identical measures that require the disclosure of donors and regulation of money used in currently undisclosed, unregulated campaign communications masquerading as issue advocacy, better know as "phony issue ads." These measures would apply only to widely disseminated communications that run 60 days or less prior to an election.

ASSEMBLY BILL 65 and Senate Bill 40 are identical measures to provide full public financing to qualified candidates for the State Supreme Court who voluntarily agree to abide by spending limits totaling $400,000.

The additional public hearing, perhaps in Milwaukee, would be held in order to receive further public testimony.

Regardless of whether or not there is an additional public hearing, the Legislature can and should move toward passage of these two reform measures this Summer.

Others agree with us. Read the Editorial in The Capital Times: Campaign finance reform's moment.
____________________________________________________________________________________

While the phony issue ad regulation and disclosure legislation would be applicable to all state elections in Wisconsin, the Impartial Justice bill would reform and provide public financing for only State Supreme Court elections. The Legislature, the Governor and all other statewide elected offices are still in desperate need of sweeping campaign finance reform. That's why it is so important and significant that Senator Michael Ellis (R-Neenah) and Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) have teamed up yet again to introduce comprehensive campaign finance reform legislation.

The 2009 version of the legislation, Senate Bill 221, was formally introduced on May 26th with bipartisan and bicameral co-sponsorship. Some modifications and improvements have been made to this, the sixth version of this sweeping measure, which was first devised and introduced by Senator Ellis, with considerable input from CC/WI a decade ago--in 1999. We have strongly supported it in every legislative session and do now as well.

Highlights and major provisions/modifications contained in the legislation are here: Sens. Erpenbach, Ellis: Comprehensive campaign finance reform back
____________________________________________________________________________________
Jay Heck
Executive Director
Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson Street, Suite 212
Madison, WI 53703

Want Good Government? Join Common Cause in Wisconsin!
Call 608/256-2686
Website: www.commoncausewisconsin.org
E-Mail Address: ccwisjwh@itis.com


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Monday, June 1, 2009



Common Cause
in Wisconsin
Legislative Testimony



Excerpts from CC/WI Executive Director Jay Heck's testimony at the May 27 public hearing on campaign finance reform measures:

video

To read CC/WI's full written testimony, go here.


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Incongruities and incongruities


A Wisconsin Political Fix
not just another blog
May 31, 2009

By Bill Kraus


It is not surprising to hear the Republicans complain about the unfairness of the “liberal” press and their unfriendly-to-unfavorable coverage. It is a little surprising that the complainers don’t take a lesson from or seek the advice of the members of the party who get a fair shake.

It ain’t rocket science, guys.

Putting that aside, what is really incongruous is that the Republicans, the ancestral home of the political fat cats, think they are getting the short end when it comes to money, too.

Surprisingly, there may be some truth to this.

The GOP has always felt that the money that flows to Democrats from the negative check-off process available to unions of all stripes but particularly WEAC, the teachers’ politically powerful union, is an easier route to money and maybe even a richer lode than their one-check-at-a-time soliciting.

All attempts to outlaw this have fallen on deaf ears or worse. The contributions are penny ante and the members whose dues are clipped can opt out if they wish. So all the GOP can do is point with alarm and complain.

The GOP operatives have come late to the Internet’s charms as well. Howard Dean explored this avenue and Barack Obama turned it into a 4-lane highway for money. If any Republican finance committee is hitting this jackpot I’m not aware of it.

It is worth noting that the Dems have also rounded up more millionaires than the fat cats have. Nobody on the GOP side in Wisconsin comes close to Herb Kohl, for example, and nationally George Soros and his ilk are red meat for the Dems and the Dem causes.

Let’s concede that it may be incongruous, but it does not seem to be a fanciful lament.

The real incongruity though is that, despite this, the organized and elected Republicans can be counted on to oppose all those reform measures proposed by all the do gooders, not to mention some proposals from their own cohorts as well, which are designed to level the economic playing field.

Spending limits would kill the overkill of negative checking off and Internet prowess.

Contribution limits would cut Herb Kohl and his peers down to size, fiscally anyway.

Best of all, the thirt-party party crashers would be (a) exposed and (b) subject to spending matches which would, in effect, make them indirect contributors to their intended Republican victims.

Goodbye, George Soros. Farewell, Bill Christofferson and the Greater Wisconsin Committee. Hello, parity.

And the Republican response? No thanks.

Now that’s incongruous.


Follow Bill Kraus on:
twitter / wmkraus

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