Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A big blind spot on Lautenschlager ethics

Madison's Capital Times editorially chides Gov. Jim Doyle because his campaign accepted a $250 contribution from someone employed by Adelman Travel. Apparently that firm is permanently tainted by innuendo and its employees are to be banned forever from participating in the political process as donors. Doyle's campaign is "tone deaf" to accept that donation, the editorial says. Mark Green comes in for some criticism for his fund-raising, too.

But there's nary a word about the paper's favorite candidate, Atty. Gen. Peg Lautenschlager, who appears totally deaf about fundraising propriety. The Cap Times, however, is legally blind when it comes to Peg Lautenschlager, who the paper props up at every opportunity, even as she politicizes the office by announcing "investigations" that may never bear fruit but cover her political ass.

Let's start with the money.

Consider, for example, the $15,000 Lautenschlager has taken from Chicagoan William Wirtz, a liquor distributor, and his wife, Alice. Wirtz also owns the Chicago Blackhawks, but it seems unlikely that the Wirtzs gave to Peg because she is a hockey fan.

Wirtz asked Lautenschlager in 2004 to file a friend of the court brief in a national lawsuit seeking to bar interstate mail-order wine sales. After Wisconsin joined the suit, Wirtz gave Lautenschlager $5,000. Now, in her latest finance report, Wirtz and his wife each gave another $5,000. (The Supreme Court went the other way and allowed the interstate sales.)

Can you imagine the page one stories, editorials, and investigations that would ensue if Doyle's office, instead of Lautenschlager's, had done that?

In her January report, Lautenschlager reported receiving $25,000 from executives of a company charged with consumer fraud, International Profit Associates Inc.-Integrated Business Analysis Inc. of Buffalo Grove, Ill. In February 2005, the firm reached a settlement with Lautenschlager's Department of Justice over complaints from customers.

A few months later, Lautenschlager's campaign received donations of $5,000 each from John Burgess, founder and managing director, and Gregg Steinberg, president of the firm. Burgess' wife later gave $10,000 and Steinberg gave another $5,000.

When it became public, Lautenschlager returned the money, but insisted she was unaware of the lawsuit or the donations. That strained credibility, since that $25,000 made the IPA folks her biggest donors. (Doyle also returned $10,000 from the firm, although he had no connection or influence on the legal case.)

The Cap Times acknowledged the Wirtz money in a story after Kathleen Falk's campaign raised the issue.

But there's been no editorial moralizing about it. No mention in the Journal Sentinel, either, although that paper is on a crusade, apparently, to put the spotlight on Doyle's donors every day -- and no one else's.

Then there's the little matter of the Realtors, who gave Lautenschlager $27,000 in political action committee money. Two possible reasons the Realtors, who are part of the Republican Big Three (WMC and the builders being the others) would give to Peg: (1) They think, correctly, that Falk will be tougher on enforcing environmental laws when development is taking place, or (2) They think, again correctly, that Lautenschlager will be easier for a Republican to beat in November. Since what they really want is a Republican in the AG's office, this is an investment that makes sense.

The Realtors also want a Republican in the governor's office, of course, and Lautenschlager, stung by Doyle's support of Falk, seems willing to help on that front, too.

How else to explain her decision, after getting a little heat from Republican AG wannabe JB Van Hollen, to make this announcement, as reported by the JS:

Madison - State and federal prosecutors are probing Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle's administration over a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee building project and a meeting Doyle's campaign fund-raiser arranged for Doyle's top deputy in his state office.

Michael Bauer, the administrator of legal services at the state Department of Justice, said Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, U.S. Attorney Steven M. Biskupic and their aides are involved in the reviews, which grew out of an ongoing investigation into the awarding of a travel contract to a Doyle donor.

Bauer cautioned that the review of the role played by former state Administration Secretary Marc Marotta in the UWM building and an unrelated meeting with Philadelphia-area attorney Richard Schiffrin were in the early stages.
It has been a long-standing policy, with good reason, for the state Dept. of Justice and its head, the attorney general, not to comment on whether investigations are or are not underway. During the 12 years Doyle headed the department, that was standard procedure.

Some of the reasons? Many investigations lead nowhere, or at least don't result in any charges or findings of wrongdoing. But they can take a long time, and it is unfair to have that cloud hanging over someone who may well be cleared in the end.

That, of course, is exactly what Lautenschlager did to Doyle yesterday. And it wasn't an accident. It was done deliberately, to get herself off the hook, with reckless disregard for the consequences.

One consequence for her could be that Democrats wake up and dump her in the primary. One can only hope.

UPDATE: Flushed with success, Van Hollen today calls for the AG to investigate contributions from Kenosha casino backers. Will Lautenschlager oblige again?


At 9:52 PM, Blogger Troy Fullerton said...

Don't you think that if you did an analysis of every elected official in the state, there would be donations that would be questioned as coming from people who directly benefited from decisions of that official?

So much for trying to make stem cells the focus of this election cycle; regardless of ads run, this election still comes down to ethics.


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