Wednesday, February 08, 2006

What Jensen did wasn't business as usual

From The Xoff Files archives. Posted on June 24, 2005, and just as true today, after seven and a half months of delay, posturing, and huffing and puffing by Scott Jensen and his allies:

Jensen didn't invent system,
but took it to new heights

Charlie Sykes has big news. Scott Jensen was not the first Assembly speaker to do political work or use his caucus staff to help in campaigns. Tom Loftus, a Democrat, did it too, Sykes reports in excruciating detail on his blog, Sykes Writes.

He accuses me of having a selective memory, of pretending Tom Loftus or Wally Kunicki or Shirley Krug or others in the Democratic leadership never did political work or used their staffs for campaign help.

I don't dispute that. It was an open secret for years, to anyone working in or covering the Capitol for the news media, that the caucuses did political work, especially at campaign time.

So, Charlie asks, what is the big deal now all of a sudden?

The caucus scandal became a scandal because the leadership in both houses took it to the extreme.

There is a difference between shaking down lobbyists, as some legislators are accused of, and helping some candidate in the hinterlands run for office.

And there is a huge difference between a legislator raising money, or a caucus staffer helping plan a fundraiser or prepare a list for the legislator to call, and putting someone on the state payroll to the tune of $65,000 a year to do nothing but raise political money full-time. That's what Scott Jensen, Steve Foti, and Sherry Schultz are accused of. They don't even deny it; they just say that was part of their jobs.

I can tell the difference between that and whatever Tom Loftus did.

If he levels with himself, Sykes can, too.

Jensen didn't invent the system, but he took it to new heights.

Here's my earlier (june 22, 2005) post on the subject, which set Sykes off:
Just doing our jobs, Jensen & Co. say;
raising money full-time on taxpayers' tab

You have to give them credit for trying, I guess, and for doing exhaustive research and making creative arguments.

But the latest claim by lawyers for Scott Jensen, Steve Foti, and Sherry Schultz , the Republicans charged with felonies in the caucus scandal -- that the three were just doing their jobs -- is simply incredible.

Jensen was the Assembly speaker, Foti the GOP majority leader, and Schultz an Assembly staffer. They were indicted in 2002, and have been trying to postpone the inevitable ever since. So far that has worked pretty well. October 18 will be the three-year anniversary of their indictments, and a trial is nowhere in sight.

Foti has left the legislature, and Schultz is off the state payroll. But Jensen continues on his merry way, as a key member of the Joint Finance Committee that put the state budget together.

Jensen simply has no shame. The latest argument from his lawyer goes something like this: "Jensen, Foti, and Schultz were just doing what they were supposed to be doing -- that part of their jobs was to elect more Republicans to office. So of course they were doing some campaign work in their Capitol offices. What's your point, prosecutor?"

The basis for that claim is a 1986 report prepared for Common Cause in Wisconsin by Gail Shea, a former employee of the State Elections Board. Shea's report says that "Legislative campaign committees hire consultants for a variety of purposes . . . In some cases the consultants are nationally known political experts, but most often they are politically active individuals from Wisconsin or legislative staffers, either currently on the state payroll or on leave from their legislative jobs."

"It is important to keep in mind that the legislative campaign committees claim they fill a role very similar to a political party," Shea's report says. "Their purpose is to elect partisans to their respective house of the Legislature."

Jensen's lawyer claims that means there are no limits on what an elected official can do at taxpayer expense, apparently.

Lest we forget, one of the felony charges against Jensen, Foti, and Schultz is that Schultz worked full-time, on the state payroll, paid $65,000 a year by taxpayers, and her full-time job was to raise money for Republicans. Jensen hired her and stashed her in the Republican caucus office, on Foti's payroll.

That arrangement went on for almost four years, so taxpayers paid Schultz $250,000 in salary, plus a great benefit package probably worth another $50,000 over that period. That is not penny ante corner-cutting. That is grand larceny.

It is quite a leap from Shea's memo to the conclusion that it would be legal to operate a full-time political fundraising operation in your Capitol office, at taxpayer expense. If that is legal, why on earth does any campaign or political party pay anyone? They could all be state employees, merrily working to elect their bosses or others in their party. That's their job, right -- elect more Rs or Ds.

Jensen, Foti and Schultz made much the same argument in a brief filed in December 2002 -- and failed. Story. The only thing that has changed since then is that someone dug up the Shea memo in the Legislative Reference Bureau.

But if attorney general opinions don't have the force of law, it doesn't seem like a Common Cause memo will either.

I am beginning to wonder whether any of the caucus defendants -- Jensen, Foti, Schultz, ex-State Rep. Bonnie Ladwig, or ex-State Sens. Chuck Chvala and Brian Burke will come to trial in my lifetime -- or in theirs. The public has mostly forgotten what they were ever charged with to begin with. Presumably, although the wheels of justice grind excruciatingly slowly, they will turn some day.

They say that justice delayed is justice denied. In the caucus scandal, it is the defendants who delay, delay and delay. In Jensen's case, it is the public, and his constituents, who are being denied the opportunity to find out whether they reelected a felon to the Assembly in 2002 and 2004.
To refresh our memories, here is the original criminal complaint.


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