Saturday, September 23, 2006

The plot thickens in Elections Board case

Here's a little something else for Paul Bucher to investigate. It wasn't front page news, of course, and the Journal Sentinel didn't do its own reporting, but at least this story made the paper -- or at least part of it did.

For some mysterious reason, only about half the story ran, on the front of the Metro section, with a line that said turn to 5B for the rest. But the rest didn't run, so you never got to read the part about Wiley's phone call, or the Democratic reaction. I'm not suggesting it was intentional, but it is still distressing.
GOP leader also contacted board

No strategy discussed in brief call, Wiley says

Associated Press

Madison-- On the day a district attorney announced he will investigate lobbying of Elections Board members by an attorney for Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, the head of the state Republican Party said he too had conversations with a board member the day before a key vote.

At issue is the appropriateness and legality of conversations and e-mails that took place before the board voting 5-2 on Aug. 30 to require Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Green to return nearly $468,000 in campaign donations.

On Thursday, the Journal Sentinel revealed that three Democrats who voted for Green to return the money had been contacted in the days leading up to the vote by Doyle campaign attorney Michael S. Maistelman.

Elections Board attorney George Dunst has said there was nothing illegal about the contact, and Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard said Friday he will not be launching an investigation.

But Paul Bucher, the Waukesha County district attorney who lost in the Sept. 12 Republican primary for attorney general, said Friday that he believes he has jurisdiction to look into the allegations surrounding the meeting that occurred in Brookfield, which is in his county.

Bucher said he plans to look for violations of the state's open meeting laws, ethics code and lobbying statutes.
That is where the story ends, at least in my edition of the newspaper.

And now, as Paul Harvey would say, here's the rest of the story:
Meanwhile, Republican Party executive director Rick Wiley said Friday that he spoke with Elections Board member John Savage, a Republican who was selected to serve by the party, on the day before the vote. Wiley said he called Savage to consult with him after hearing that Savage told people at a GOP fund raiser that he did not believe the vote was going to go in favor of Green.

Wiley said Savage told him that given the partisan makeup of the board - which has four Democrats, three Republicans, one Libertarian and one non-partisan appointee - it was unlikely Green's position would win out. Wiley said he told Savage he had to agree, but they didn't discuss any other strategy about the vote.

A call to Savage's home late Friday rang unanswered.

Wiley said he talked to no other board members and that he knows of no one else with the party or Green's campaign who spoke to the board.

Doyle's campaign seized on the news.

"For days Republicans have been pointing fingers at everyone but themselves to distract voters from the simple fact that Congressman Green violated state and federal laws with his illegal transfer," said Melanie Fonder, Doyle's spokeswoman. "What's wrong here is the Republican hypocrisy has been exposed."

Wiley said he figured that would be the Democratic response, but his brief conversation with Savage was different from the e-mails Maistelman sent that outlined specific action board members should take and how they should vote.

"He was bound and determined to write the language for this transfer and how they were going to deem that Mark Green did this illegally," Wiley said.

The three Democrats who were lobbied by Maistelman, along with another Democrat and a Libertarian board member, voted in favor of the order against Green. Savage and another Republican member voted against it.
The reason it's not a better, juicier story is that Maistelman put things in writing. Wiley wisely made a phone call, and no one will ever know what was said in that conversation. Good to hear it was not about "strategy." Maybe that's because the Republican board members were automatically going to vote to let Congressman Mark Green break the law. It's a little hard to believe that Wiley called Savage to find our how many members of the board were Republicans, and hard to understand why, only four of nine members are Dems, why it should be assumed the decision would go against Green.

There was nothing wrong with Maistelman contacting board members, and nothing wrong with Wiley's phone call. But, sauce for the goose ...

Afterthought. It should be noted that this AP story comes after two days of the JS failing or refusing to ask the right questions, and letting Green and the GOP get away with carefully parsed statements that "no one from the campaign" had contacted any board members. I still say that if Green's lawyer didn't talk to any board members before the meeting, he should be fired for malpractice.

UPDATE: This Dem Party release is amusing and on target:
Wiley Calls for Resignation of
Republican Elections Board Member

RPW Executive Director Attacks Democrats
for Doing Exactly What He Himself Did

MADISON-- The hypocritical partisan attacks from Republicans just keep coming.

Yesterday, the Republican Party of Wisconsin called on Democratic members of the State Elections Board to resign over contacts with a Democratic elections lawyer that the board’s own attorney said were legal and appropriate. [Source: Associated Press, 9/22/06]

That same day, it was learned that RPW Executive Director Rick Wiley called his own appointee on the board just one day before the board ruled that Congressman Mark Green violated state campaign finance laws. [Source: Associated Press, 9/22/06]
UPDATE 2: Saturday's story was reprinted in Sunday's paper, inside the Metro section, in my edition, with a note saying only part of the story ran in some editions because of a production error.

A nugget from WisPolitics' report to subscribers:
[Republican board member John] Schober said he was not contacted prior to the Green vote. But, he said, it isn't unusual for members to receive e-mails as a group and wouldn't condemn his fellow board members for their contacts with Maistelman.

"Mere contact in and of itself isn't prohibited," said Schober, who was appointed by Senate Majority Leader Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center. "The fact somebody contacted them to me isn't improper. It isn't for me to judge other board members and how they arrive at their decisions."


At 12:06 PM, Blogger George Roberts said...

It's no surprise that a paper that has so declined in quality that it doesn't ask the obvious questions also would become just sloppy in the simple mechanics of jumping the story, losing the rest. It's not a conspiracy at the paper; it's just a crappy paper.

And it could have interesting repercussions. Even non-news junkies I know are starting to say that a paper and its party fanning so much smoke but never finding actual fire, actual wrongdoing, must be scared of what Doyle is doing in good ways.

The perception that a Milwaukee mayor was persecuted by the paper, even when it was a good paper, helped him get reelected for almost three decades, setting a record not only in the city but in the country. So maybe the perception that the paper is persecuting the governor will help him stay in office for another quarter of a century. People like a fighter.

At 2:41 PM, Blogger nosefornews said...

The paper is definitely trying to elect Green. This is unfair, distasteful and unethical.

Bruce Murphy's eyeopening expose on the JS last year made it clear how biased the paper's political coverage is.

Wisconsin's largest newspaper is rumored to aspire to a Pulitzer. But the only award it deserves is a dart for denying its readers "Fair and Balanced" coverage.


At 6:21 PM, Blogger Harry Walker said...

Nothing new here. Much like the reporting in the caucus scandal, the Madison papers do a better job covering the story. I'm not generally anti-Milwaukee, but the quality of news coverage in the state's largest city has been in a state of decline for a while. No wonder reputable journalists like Mike Gousha are jumping from the Journal Corp ship...maybe they think doing the heavy lifting for the state Republicans will help them gain readers in the suburbs.

I guess that's why so few of us pay for the newspaper there anyone on this blog who has paid for a copy of the MJS recently?

At 12:32 AM, Blogger XOut said...

So emails telling elections board members that we will provide you cover and another actually writing the opinion is the same as a GOP operative chatting at an event with one member?

You guys are unreal.

You are in deep and unhealty denial Christoff.

You need to book a nice long vacation for the holidays. You will need it.


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