Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Elections Board latest on JS enemies list?

Is the State Elections Board the newest target to wander into the sights of the Journal Sentinel?

Because its members dared to challenge Congressman Mark Green's transfer of illegal special interest contributions, is the agency now going to get the same treatment the newspaper has given the sewerage district,MMSD?

Today's story on the agency's budget request certainly seems to suggest that.
Elections Board requests big raise
Panel says it needs $1 million more yearly to maintain voter list

Madison - The state Elections Board said it needed an extra $1 million a year from taxpayers to maintain a new voter database that still is not fully functional despite a federal law that required it to be finished nine months ago.

That extra money - along with new funds to add two staffers, among other things - would bring the agency's taxpayer-supported budget to $4.79 million over two years, more than double its current budget of $1.92 million.

The budget request comes as the board is under fire for delays with the database and a board order that Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Green divest almost $468,000 from his campaign account.
The story makes no distinction between the board and the agency.

The board -- the members appointed by elected officials and the political parties -- made the decision on Green's money. That's being appealed, and Green, the GOP, and the newspaper have done their best to make it look like the decision was based on politics, ignoring the fact that there's a state law governing what Green did.

Unfortunately for the agency which the board oversees, it is also known as the State Elections Board. So it is now a target, too.

As state agencies go, it's a small one, with 11 employees and a budget of $2.7-million, according to the latest Blue Book.

It's job has been to administer and enforce the state's elections and campaign laws.

But it has been asked to take on a massive new project, implementing a computerized, central statewide voter list and registration system. The state has never had a central voter list; each municipality has maintained its own. But the federal law, the ironically named Help America Vote Act, requires a statewide list.

That process has been fraught with missteps, delays, and cost overruns. That shouldn't be a big surprise for that kind of project. The list is still not operational.

But why would a $1-million a year budget increase be the top story on the front page of the state's biggest paper?

Not because the Journal Sentinel thinks it's good news. You can bet on that. The fact that the Green case made the third paragraph of the story tells you a lot.

The newspaper is after the Elections Board.

If the MMSD case is the precedent, the board's every step will be examined under a microscope and portrayed in the worst possible light.

I've certainly had my disputes and disappointments with the Elections Board over the years. But I've never doubted that they are trying to do the best job they can with the staff and resources they have at their disposal.

If they say they need another $1-million a year to comply with the mandates that Congressmen Mark Green, F. Jim Sensenbrenner, and the Republicans have forced onto them, I am inclined to think they need it. I don't think Executive Director Kevin Kennedy or Legal Counsel George Dunst are going to siphon off the money and share it with Doyle lawyer Mike Maistelman. (The headline, "asks for big raise," makes it sound like Kennedy wants a salary increase.)

What is going on here?

Other theories welcome. This may be the paper's rationale:
The budget request comes at a difficult time for the board.

Reformers believe the board did not do enough to stop campaigning on state time by legislative aides [the first I've heard that was the Elections Board's job -- Xoff], and they have pushed for merging the board with the Ethics Board to create an agency with broader investigative powers. [Actually, it was Assembly Republicans who killed the merger. -- Xoff.]

Republican lawmakers are fuming over the Elections Board's Aug. 30 order that Green divest from his state campaign fund $467,844 in federal political action committee money. A Dane County judge recently concurred with that decision, but Green has said that he would take the matter to the state Supreme Court.

The board is to vote Wednesday on whether Green should divest his state campaign of another $775,000 that he transferred from his federal account.

Before the Legislature deals with the funding request, it must decide whether to reform the board, [State Rep. Dean] Kaufert said. The bill to create a board with greater powers to root out corruption passed the Senate in 2005, but the Assembly killed it this year.

Republicans who control both houses have heard repeatedly about the issue on the campaign trail and are likely to pass a similar bill in the session that begins in January, Kaufert said.


At 5:16 PM, Blogger George Roberts said...

The headline was enough to tell me it was going to be another JS special -- a biased attack.

People get "raises."

Agencies get increases.

And where was the watchdog JS when the mandates were proposed without enough dollar signs on the bill for more work, such as required now for elections?

The JS was puffing the "voter fraud" that allegedly occurred in massive numbers in several places across the state.

The "voter fraud" that, it turned out, didn't happen.

But laws put in place to solve a problem that didn't happen -- those laws now are going to cost a lot. Even laws required by Congress but with the bill to be paid by states and municipalities.

Heckuva job, JS.

At 8:22 PM, Blogger TRBlog said...

The pot calls the kettle black.


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