Tuesday, January 31, 2006

McBride Forgets, Apparently

Keeping Bill's blog up to the founder's standards is a big responsibility, so I would be remiss if I didn't point out the following apparent contradiction over there on the right side of the Blogosphere:

On Saturday, January 28th, Jessica McBride posted an item on her blog with this title:

If you have to use the word "apparently", people, you don't have the story; will you now report on Doyle's strategist this hard?

McBride was objecting to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story about a free NBA basketball ticket that is at the center of a political fracas involving Mark Graul, campaign manager for Mark Green, member of Congress and Republican gubernatorial candidate. She also called for equally tough reporting on Doyle campaign strategist Rich Judge. Here are the few graphs: the quotation marks are mine, to separate the posted material from my remarks.

"From Sunday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel hatchet job on Mark Graul, strategist for Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Green (a story that had 8 times as many words as the paper's original news brief on Travelgate), comes this lead (*my emphasis in bold):

"Mark Graul, campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Mark Green, Republican candidate for Wisconsin governor, apparently took an improper gift from a lobbyist while working as the congressman's top aide.

"If you've got to use the word "apparently" in the lead, it means you don't have the goods. And if you don't have the goods, it's highly unfair to write a lead like this. I know this trick; I worked at this newspaper. You don't stick the word "apparently" in a lead unless you aren't quite sure what you are saying is true, or you know you can't quite prove it. So you want to imply it as heavily as you can, but you soften it. If you aren't quite sure what you are saying is true, it's highly unfair to hang a big story on it in such a dramatic fashion."

OK. The blog goes on...Anyway: I get the point. I worked at the paper, too. Which is why the lead sentence from the following story stored in the paper's online archive caught my attention. Again, the quotation marks are mine.

Executive sought details in August

By JESSICA MCBRIDE and STEVE SCHULTZE of the Journal Sentinel staff
Last Updated: Jan. 17, 2002

"County Executive F. Thomas Ament apparently knew details of his sweetened pension at least by August - two months earlier than he has previously acknowledged."

'Nuff said, apparently.

Pistol-Packers Lose, Public Wins

Good thing the concealed gun-carrying gubernatorial veto was sustained and the issue is buried for a while (until it's resurrected in wearisome, fearsome campaign ads).

Let's tell our legislators to get focused on substance - - health care reform, job creation, education improvement, energy and water conservation - - that affects people's lives in Wisconsin.

Concealed carry has always been a fake, wedge issue whipped up by the political Right as fear-based politics to energize its base. The public isn't made safer with handguns and other deadly weapons carried in pockets and purses and briefcases.

Denial on Climate Change, Again

Here's something to think about as gas hits $2.50 a gallon and the Bush administration continues to roll back environmental policy from clean air to national forest protections.

Benign neglect, you say? But wait! The administration is actually taking action: It is silencing NASA's top climate change expert, according to The New York Times, continuing its head-in-the-sand, pro-Big Oil War on Science.


Keep in mind that the Bush-Cheney apologists on conservative talk radio claim that human beings could not possibly cause climate change. The administration flacks' proof (sic) is that cloud-seeding efforts to produce rain have failed.

Hold that nonsequitur in place as you read the Times piece, knowing that alot of people think they are hearing facts on conservative talk radio.

Any wonder that there is a growing body of credible evidence about the reality and danger of climate change - - but that it is being ignored by administration policy makers and their ideological echo chamber?

The wrong answer to the health care crisis

In tonight's State of the Monarchy, King George will be touting something called Health Savings Accounts (HSA's) as the answer to everyones anxiety about rising health care costs.

Here's just a snapshot of Bush's record on health care over the last five years.

-The cost of family health insurance is rising faster than wages. Average premiums have increased 71 percent, growing from an average of $6,348 in 2000 to $10,880 in 2005. (Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Education Trust, September 2005)

-Deductibles are increasing. The average in-network deductible for the most common type of health plan has grown 85 percent for single coverage, an increase from $175 in 2000 to $323 in 2005. The average deductible for family coverage for the most common type of health plan is now $679. (Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Education Trust, September 2005)

-Drug prices are escalating. Prices for commonly used brand-name drugs have been rising faster than the general inflation rate since 2000. Prices for these brand-name drugs increased 6.1 percent in 2005, twice the rate of inflation. (AARP, November 2005)

-Rising health costs increase the chances that patients will receive large medical bills that they simply cannot pay. Medical reasons – such as illness or injury or large uncovered medical bills – contributed to about 46 percent of personal bankruptcy filings. (Himmelstein et al., Health Affairs, February 2, 2005)

-Health care spending is also consuming a larger share of the nation’s economic output. National health care spending, which represented 13.8 percent of the gross domestic product in 2000, has risen to 16 percent. (Health Affairs, January/February 2006)

HSA's are also Green and Walkers answer to our health care crisis as it is for just about every Republican. Why? Because the health care industry that funds their campaigns like them.

They sound great but here's the reality when it comes to HSA's.

HSAs provide the most benefit to those who need it least – the wealthy who can already afford health coverage. HSAs primarily benefit upper-income people while providing little or no benefit to middle- and low-income families struggling to afford health coverage. It is upper-income people who have the resources to maximize their contributions to an HSA each year and who receive the greatest tax advantage from doing so. For example, an upper-income person in the 35 percent income tax bracket would be able to deduct 35 percent of their HSA contribution. But someone in the 15 percent income tax bracket – who is more likely to have difficulty affording health coverage – would only be able to deduct 15 percent of their HSA contribution. Ninety-four percent of the uninsured are in the 15 percent, 10 percent, or zero percent income tax bracket and would receive little or no tax benefit from HSAs. (Commonwealth Fund, April 2005) If the President proposes to increase the amount of money that individuals can deposit into an HSA, he will only further advantage the wealthy (who have the resources to make additional deposits) while neglecting low-income people (who do not have the extra funds to put into an HSA).

HSAs increase out-of-pocket costs, harming those in less-than-perfect health and people with modest incomes. HSAs are a lure to encourage people to switch to a high-deductible health plan (e.g., a deductible of at least $1,000 for individual coverage and at least $2,000 for family coverage). Administration officials and conservative economists advocate high-deductible plans because they believe people are over-insured and should be spending more of their own money on health care. But promoting high-deductible plans means asking people with chronic health conditions and other medical conditions to pay more for their health care. A recent survey found that people with “consumer-driven” health plans (i.e., a high-deductible plan with an HSA or a health reimbursement arrangement) are significantly more likely to avoid, skip or delay health care because of the cost and are more likely to spend more of their income on health care than people in more comprehensive health plans. (EBRI/Commonwealth Fund, December 2005) The people who most need and deserve assistance with their health expenses – the sick and those with low incomes – would actually be worse off under the President’s plan.

HSAs could increase premiums for comprehensive health coverage. The widespread use of HSAs and high-deductibles plans could segment the insurance market: the young and the healthy would likely disproportionately switch to HSAs with high-deductible plans while older and sicker people would want to remain in low-deductible health plans. This kind of risk selection would hurt older and sicker people. The greater the number of the healthy and wealthy who switch to HSAs and high-deductible plans, the higher the premiums will rise for the older and sicker people who want to retain their comprehensive coverage. Providing a tax deduction for high-deductible plans, as the President has proposed in the past, would increase the likelihood of this risk segmentation and its premium-escalating effect on comprehensive health plans. (Commonwealth Fund, April 2005)

Providing a tax deduction for high-deductible plans would actually increase the number of uninsured Americans. To expand the use of HSAs, President Bush has proposed in the past to provide a tax deduction for the high-deductible plans that accompany HSAs. But this type of tax deduction would adversely affect employer-based health coverage and, according to MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, would likely cause a 350,000 person increase in the number of uninsured Americans. Gruber’s analysis also found that the tax deduction would not be well targeted: 87 percent of those who would take advantage of the deduction would already have health insurance. (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, May 10, 2004)

HSAs will not lead to substantial containment of health care costs. Proponents of HSAs and high-deductible plans argue that exposing people to more out-of-pocket health costs will make them more careful consumers of health care. But unlike most other goods and services, patients typically do not have the specialized knowledge to determine what health care services they need and often do not have the time to compare prices before seeking care. Information on price and quality of health care services is not available to most patients. Moreover, HSAs and high-deductible plans would do nothing to restrain the cost of expensive treatments, which would be covered by the high-deductible plan and are largely responsible for high health spending: only 21 percent of total health spending falls below the minimum deductible for an HSA (i.e., $1,000 for an individual and $2,000 for a family). (Commonwealth Fund, April 2005)

Let's hope the media in Wisconsin begin asking Green and Walker questions about their failed approach to health care reform. Not only is it one of the top issues on the mind of their readers (voters) but health care reform is going to be a big issue in the race for Governor. On no single issue could the choice be as clear as on health care.

Gladys Walsh and the Dept. of All

Headline: Doyle cancels travel contract
Award to travel firm dogged administration

Gladys Walsh was a little old lady who appeared faithfully every session in the early 1970s to deliver a single message to the Joint Finance Committee: "Abolish the Department of Administration."

Miss Walsh -- this was an era before the title Ms. was invented -- dressed like my eighth-grade teacher. She wore Navy blue flowered print dresses and hats, and looked over her rimless glasses at committee members as she lectured them in Political Science 101.

She argued that the Department of Administration was an unconstitutional agglomeration of power in a single state agency, a creature whose appetite for power had been fed by the Kellett Commission of the late '60s, which created the Department of Natural Resources and various other agencies with long names, from smaller agencies with fewer powers.

But DOA was above them all, in charge of creating the state budget for the governor and generally running the show. In the days when Pat Lucey was governor, the governor had to say "Please..." to a lot of state agencies, which were mostly independent fiefdoms run by boards that the governor could influence as he appointed his people.

DOA was the only agency that was clearly under his control. In those days, Joe Nusbaum was DOA secretary, the agency had 974 employees and its two-year budget was $40.1 million.

Governors made a habit of adding to DOA's authority over the years, no doubt causing Miss Walsh to spin in her grave.

The zenith of DOA power, of course, was under Tommy Thompson, who evidently inculcated the agency with the notion they were under under the governor's personal and political control. A long list of DOA employees were on the list of Tommy's political contributors in my database, the first -- and last -- ever assembled by a news organization in Wisconsin.

Today, the DOA has fewer employees than it had in 1973: 902.08. Somebody should find that eight-hundredths of an employee and interview him or her. That is, if the eight hundredths includes his or her mouth.

But DOA's budget has soared to $915.8 million. That's more than a five-fold increase in budget, in inflation-adjusted dollars, since the Lucey years.

Under Tommy's DOA secretary, the Germanic Jim Klauser, DOA's major failure was its attempt to sneak a gas tax increase into law. It strove to centralize the state's data functions into a giant computer under Klauser's control and accumulate still more power any way it could. Its nickname was the Department of All.

One of the first powers DOA got was control over state purchasing, in 1959. Today the agency is reeling under the indictment of a career civil servant for allegedly throwing a contract to friends of the governor.

Regardless of who knew what and who did what, maybe Gladys Walsh was right. Maybe too much authority in one place is a truly dangerous thing.

'Spies, Lies and Wiretaps'

"A bit over a week ago, President Bush and his men promised to provide the legal, constitutional and moral justifications for the sort of warrantless spying on Americans that has been illegal for nearly 30 years, the New York Times wrote in an editorial Sunday.

"Instead, we got the familiar mix of political spin, clumsy historical misinformation, contemptuous dismissals of civil liberties concerns, cynical attempts to paint dissents as anti-American and pro-terrorist, and a couple of big, dangerous lies."

If you didn't see it, check out the whole editorial on the Times web site, www.nytimes.com. You may have to be a subscriber to the Times or Times Select. You should be.

Watch what they do, not what they say

President Bush, in his state of the union speech tonight, is expected to call for new initiatives to reduce energy prices and reliance on foreign oil. Meanwhile, his fellow Republicans in Congress are very close to cutting $20 million from a program allowing farmers to buy renewable energy systems or to improve their farms' energy-efficiency.

One order of pandering with a side of hypocrisy coming right up.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Gonzales caught on wiretapping

The Bush administration has been on a PR campaign to deflect questions about the fact that they have been running a secret domestic spying program without legislative or judicial oversight.

The Bushies want people to believe this about fighting terrorism but the reality is it's about our values and the foundations upon which our country was built-- a democracy with three co-equal branches of government.

To date the media and pollsters have been asking the wrong question. Do most people support the use of wiretaps to go after terrorists? Sure, but they don't believe Bush should be engaging in secret, warrantless domestic spying on Americans and that is what he has been doing.

As upcoming congressional hearings will reveal, the big problem for King George is the fact that the Administration has been misleading congress about the secret program and going around the judicial branch with no legal leg to stand on.

Look for our very own, Russ Feingold to be asking the tough questions. In fact he has already started. As the Washington Post reports Tuesday:

Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) charged yesterday that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales misled the Senate during his confirmation hearing a year ago when he appeared to try to avoid answering a question about whether the president could authorize warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens.
"It now appears that the Attorney General was not being straight with the Judiciary Committee and he has some explaining to do," Feingold said in a statement yesterday.

When you are so arrogant as to believe that you can simply blow off two branches of government some people might have some questions and it's good to see Feingold taking the lead in challenging an administration that continues on it's drunk with power bender.

Concealed carry override: NRA is powerless

On Tuesday, the Assembly votes on whether or not to override Gov. Doyle's veto (for what seems like the zillionth time) of Sen. Dave Zien's concealed carry bill. It will be a close vote, by all accounts.

One thing to consider: last session, Rep. Gary Sherman (D-Port Wing), a co-author (!) of concealed carry, was the deciding vote against overriding the governor's veto. Sherman represents a northern, rural district that exemplifies NRA country. The gun lobby was enraged, and threw everything they had at him, even luring Sherman's predecessor, Barb Linton, out of retirement to run against him as a Republican.

Linton got slaughtered, and Sherman coasted to re-election. There is a lesson in this story for Assembly Dems who are sweating their votes on this issue.

Of Grauls and Judges

With their boy Mark Graul definitively caught with his hand in the Abramoff cookie jar, the Get Doyle crowd has decided the best defense is a good offense. To that end, they're ramping up the chatter about Doyle campaign manager Rich Judge (see McBucher and McSykes), and the fact that he (like just about every other political operative in this state) spent some time working in the now-defunct caucuses some six years ago.

The justification is that if Graul's acceptance of free luxury box tickets from Jack Abramoff in 2000 (in violation of House ethics rules) is going to be an issue, so should Judge's work history from the same period.

The comparison is bogus. And pathetic.

The reason - the one and only reason - that anyone cares TODAY about what Graul did six years ago is because he was still having trouble keeping his stories straight LAST WEEK. The event itself is ancient history, but it continues to be newsworthy because Graul still can't bring himself to tell the truth about it.

Real voters couldn't give a lick what a couple of political operatives did in 2000. But Graul has given the Abramoff issue currency through his own incompetence at keeping his story straight, and is now justifiably paying the price. That has nothing to do with what people did in 2000; it has everything to do with what people are doing in 2006.

Exposed: Cheney's Secret Prison in SEWRPC's HQ !

Ok. Vice President Dick Cheney isn't running a secret prison out of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission's (SEWRPC) headquarters in Pewaukee. I made that up.

But considering the veil of anonymity SEWRPC operates under, Dick Cheney might be living in its basement for all we know.

Take, for example, State Senator Mary Lazich's legislation that would require boards with taxing authority to be elected, rather the appointed. She seems to be targeting technical boards for the change but in public comments talked about including the usual suspects like the Wisconsin Center District and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.

What about SEWRPC? SEWRPC pays for its operations through a regional tax levy apportioned to each of the seven counties it serves on the basis of equalized valuation. Plus it exerts a great deal of influence over policy decisions that can involve billions of tax dollars and private investment. Sounds to me like they fit the bill (pun intended) to a tee.

SEWRPC also escaped mention in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's news coverage and editorial offering general support for Lazich''s idea. Transportion, land use, water and housing continue to be controversial issues in the region. But search the local newspaper's archives and you'll be astonished by how little has been written about them over the past few years. How does SEWRPC manage to fly so far under the radar screen?

Is this a case of amnesia? Or politics?

Country feels less safe with Bush

Russ Feingold has been saying for months that the Iraq War has in fact made us less safe against terrorism. Not only is he right but the American people agree.

A new Zogby poll shows that a majority of the American people feel less safe with Bush as President.

"In September 2005, 51% said they felt safer with Bush as President, down from numbers above 60% in earlier polls. Now, just 43% said they feel safer with Bush as President, while 53% said they feel less safe, the survey shows. "
This comes on top of the fact that only 39% of Americans approve of the job Bush is doing.

Walker's management woes: Agostini's impolitic comment

The most amazing comment in the whole Milwaukee County Parks $2.3 million deficit fiasco came from county Budget Director Stephen Agostini last week when he said of county government: "We have a lot of bad managers out there who don't take it seriously."

Uh, Steve? Those are County Executive Scott Walker's managers. You just told the entire world that your boss, a candidate for governor, has bad managers.

Do you really think that will win him any votes, or are you secretly pulling for Mark Green?

More on fees

It was nice to see more legislators join the "Do as I say, not as I do" crowd in Sunday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. If too many of them crowd into the same room, we can get them either for violating the Open Meetings Law or for violating the fire code.

I had a long, enjoyable talk with Michele Derus for the story, and understandably not everything I told her got into print.

One point that didn't make it is that local governments are only belatedly learning what the Legislature long ago figured out: you can hold the line on taxes while raising fees to cover increasing costs. Of course, the Legislature also can hold the line on taxes by creating structural deficits, something local governments can't do, but that's another story.

I reached into my file cabinet while I was talking to Derus and picked two Bob Lang memos out of my Fees-State Budget file. Lang is the long-time director of the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. If he had a beard, it would be as long as Methuselah's.

Anyway, a Lang memo dated Aug. 10, 1995 revealed that the 1995 state budget increased fees by at least $120.6 million over the two-year budget. There were no dollar estimates for some of the fee increases.

But the state was just getting the hang of how fees can ward off tax increases. In 2003, the redoubtable Lang calculated that the state budget bill would increase fees by $414.1 million.

And Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) criticized Mayor Tom Barrett because fees in Milwaukee were increased $15 million? Methinks there's a hint of politics in the air.

Shouldn't state legislators make sure their own house is spic and span -- and odor free -- before telling local government how to arrange the furniture and which flower arrangement to put in which vase?

Doyle Returns, Take Charge

Governor Jim Doyle's assertive moves today on the state travel contract mess - - canceling the contract and bringing in former DOA secretary Mark Bugher to review state contracting procedures - - are good remedial steps.

Besides being substantive, and protecting public processes and dollars, Doyle's actions stand in positive political contrast to the counter-productive foolish partisan attack launched against US Attorney Steve Biskupic by the Wisconsin Democratic Party leadership.

All that did create more bad media.

It's still too early to see how the indictment plays out, both legally and politically. Doyle is smart to take action where he can as the state's CEO without unnecessarily stirring the pot.

Giving Away Tax Base

Why is is that some legislators so dearly love to give to special interests tax revenue destined for other levels of government?

The Legislature's propensity for doing just that is displayed starkly in s. 70.11 of Wisconsin statutes, which denominates five pages of prtoperty-tax exemptions that the Legislature has bestowed on special interests, many of them worthy, some not so worthy. No wonder property taxes are so high for the rest of us.

The latest effort to cement the Legislature's love affair with tax-exempt groups -- some of them deserving, some not so deserving -- is LRB 4284/1, being circulated by Sen. Dan Kapanke and Rep. Leah Vukmir.

LRB 4284/1 helps out so-called benevolent associations that provide housing to well-to-do senior citizens without addressing the fundamental tax equity issue of giving some old people a property tax break but making other old people pay full freight.

The Kapanke/Vukmir proposal is special-interest legislation aimed at undercutting another bill that hopes to provide a reasonable and generous way of making property tax exemptions available to people of truly moderate incomes and below.

AB 573 would ensure that low-income housing and assisted living won't be taxed. But retired fat cats would have to contribute to their communities just like ordinary people.

Exempting all senior housing from property taxes unfairly penalizes senior citizens who choose to stay in their homes. ANot to mention the effect that exemptions in current law have on the rest of us, incrteasing our property taxes.

The Legislature already has an amended AB 573, a solution to the problem of property taxation on senior housing that adds fairness to existing law and protects the little guy who now falls through the cracks. Why go overboard for special interests?

Green's Secret Vote

Still no word on who Mark Green is supporting to replace his friend Tom Delay as Majority Leader. Green refuses to tell anyone who he is supporting with the secret vote coming on Thursday.

Xoff has posted on this earlier. Green's vote will tell alot about what he looks for in "leadership."

Ryan and F. James are backing John Shadegg.

Like Delay and Green, Shadegg has Connections to the Abramoff Scandal

"Rep. Shadegg shed more than $6,900 in campaign contributions from sources connected with lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Three contributions involved the congressman's use of sports suites provided to him for fund-raisers at hockey and basketball games at the MCI Center in Washington and one fund-raising dinner paid for by Abramoff partner Kevin Ring. The total value was calculated as $5,444. Shadegg is among the more than 30 congressional Republicans who signed letters on behalf of Abramoff clients just days after Abramoff or his clients gave them money or hosted fundraisers for them."

For more on the three candidates, check this out Mark.

Will secrets be revealed on Thursday?

The Squirm Machine

It's now official. Charlie Sykes and Jessica McBride provide neither good spin or good analysis. Case in point the Marky Mark case. Instead of spinning Green and Graul out of the Abramoff story they simply join the squirm machine.

Green's top aide, that would be congressional Chief of Staff and campaign manager Mark Graul, has admitted to taking and requesting freebies from indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. We know this based on e-mails that Graul himself says are "legitimate."

Charlie asks, "Is there any there there?"

And McBride says, "There is no legitimate allegation of illegality."


The "there there," are two violations of House ethics rules and both are illegal.

Sykes goes on to suggest that despite the fact that what Graul did is a violation of ethics rules and illegal (which is OK in his world), there is no "quo for the pro."

How does he know? Abramoff's luxury suites were paid for in part by Indian tribes and foreign sweatshop owners who wanted to "stop legislation aimed at cracking down on sweatshops and sex shops in the American territory."

Abramoff and Calvert had a lot of clients whose interests depended on how members of Congress voted. There can be no doubt Mark Green voted for their interests so when that is shown will McSykes warm to the idea that this is "a story?" More on that later.

The best McBride can come up in her attempted spin for Marky Mark is that the MJS spent too much time, reporters, words on the story, which she says isn't a story anyhow. Wisconsin taxpayers should be frightened by the fact that their hard-earned money is going to a journalism professor who says it is not the media's role to report on taxpayer funded staffers lies to the media and public.

Let's keep in mind in all this, Mark Graul is not someone who his boss would or could characterize as having a "'six degrees of separation' connection" to either him or Abramoff freebies. While Marky Mark's "hoax" may be working with McSykes it certainly isn't going to work with the media and voters.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Local governments and fees

Today's MJS had a solid piece on the increasing role user fees are playing in local government finance. The tin-foil hat club (Grothman, et al) would have you believe this is an abomination:

Grothman called fees "a huge loophole" to the state-mandated spending caps, which keep property tax levy increases to 2%, or the value of new construction.

Well, one man's loophole is another man's lifeline. In this case, fees are a necessity for local governments to continue providing the services that citizens demand, while also living within the state-imposed levy limits.

It's a fact of life that the cost of providing these services is going up, and there's often not much local government can do about it. For instance: citizens expect their garbage to get picked up, their streets to be plowed, and police to patrol their neighborhoods. All these activities require the use of something called "gasoline". This is the stuff that makes the garbage trucks, snowplows and police cars go. As we all know, the price of gas has jumped some 50% over the course of the last year or so. That money has to come from somewhere, and if it can't come from the levy, it either has to come from somewhere else, or the service has to be dropped. It's that simple.

Well, there is one other option. I'll call it the Scott Walker Plan. Under that scenario, you grossly underfund your pension liabilities and make a whole series of similar decisions that put the long-term viability of your municipality at risk, with a hope and a prayer that things won't go to hell until sometime after, say, November, 2006.

Nobody likes paying taxes or fees, but they are a necessary evil in a civil society. If you don't like them, move to Alabama. If you like decent public services and a good quality of life, stay in Wisconsin, and understand that everything has its cost; to pretend otherwise is dishonest.

No Pack, Paul?

It is a time honored tradition in Wisconsin politics for campaigns to try and shine the bright light of our Green Bay Packers tradition on their candidates. Rarely does a website get set up for a political campaign without some reference to Packer glory.

Mark Green has his family in Packer paraphernalia in front of lamb. Scott Walker has his family superimposed in front of Lambeau (but not Miller Park?), JB Van Hollen has a picture of his family at a game, and even John Gard, who lives in Sun Prarie but is running for Congress to represent Green Bay, has a picture of himself at Lambeau.

Of course, as we all know, and I hate to remind you, the Packers aren't winning lately but what do you think Attorney General candidate Paul Bucher is thinking?

On the Bucher website not even a hint of the Green and Gold. Nothing Packer.

You don't suppose it has anything with the fact that Bucher doesn't want to remind people that he's the one who fumbled the prosecution of former Packer Mark Chmura?

The fact that he failed to prosecute Chmura with anything for enticing a 17-year-old girl into the bathroom and sexually assaulting her at a post-prom party may make it hard for him to make the claim of Wisconsin's "top cop" but is it preventing him from giving our beloved Packers a little love on his website?

After all, Bucher has said the Chmura case is one he's "proud of."

What gives. No Pack, Paul?

Indian Tribes and foreign sweatshops pay Grauls way

Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse for Mark greens top aide, Mark Graul, it does.

As if taking AND requesting "gifts" from lobbyists in the form of Abramoff freebies wasn't enough.

Wait until you here about was who was funding the "gifts" to Graul.

Today's Milwaukee Journal sentinel (MJS) article only scratched the surface of this coming bombshell for Marky Mark.

As former Republican National Committee attorney Jan Witold Baran said, "It was exceptional even for prosperous lobbying groups to have skyboxes, observing: "Firms typically do not rent such suites because the price of tickets now regularly exceeds the limits on gifts to legislators."
So what did Abramoff do to entertain congressional Chief's of Staff like Mark Graul? He had clients like Indian tribes and foreign sweat shop interests pay for the luxury suites and then Abramoff and his associates gave out the freebies.

That's why the MJS story reports, "The firm last week disavowed that control of the skybox, issuing a statement indicating: "Mr. Abramoff leased and managed the MCI Center box in his personal capacity."

As the Washington Post reported last month in a story entitled, Tribal Money Linked to GOP Fundraising, Skybox Events Were Not Always Reported to FEC, "They used tribal money, records and interviews show, to pay for events that appeared to be designed more to help House Republicans' campaigns and Abramoff's overall lobbying effort than the Indians' legislative causes."

Another one of Abramoff's clients was the Saipan Garment Manufacturers Association and the Northern Mariana Islands, who hired Abramoff to "stop legislation aimed at cracking down on sweatshops and sex shops in the American territory."

The funding for the sweat shop lobbying effort came from Luen Thai Holdings and its controlling shareholders, the Tan family.

As reported last week by The Standard, a Chinese business newspaper, "Abramoff billed Tan US$223,679 in 2000 toward the annual rental of skyboxes in three Washington-area stadiums and arenas."

So who does Graul have to thank for giving him the tickets? Abramoff.

But who does he have to thank for paying for the luxury suite that he enjoyed? Indian Tribes and sweat shop owners.

This seems to me to be in touch with those Wisconsin values Green and Graul are always talking about.

"The foundations of the company's profitable niche are loopholes in US law that allow free migration to the island, set its minimum wage below mainland US levels and allow clothing sewn there to carry the "Made in USA" label and be exempt from quotas and tariffs.

"Before the Tan family had friends in Washington, they made enemies. In 1991, the US Labor Department sued six Tan companies for paying 1,350 mainly Chinese workers less than Saipan's minimum wage and forcing them to work up to 90 hours a week without required overtime pay."
I hope you sleep well tonight Marky Mark.

Graul Breaks the Political Rules

It's a bit ironic that Xoff is off-line while the Mark Graul story that Bill had pushed begins to finally unravel in the sunshine. Nonetheless, let's tip our collective hat to Bill and take away these additional political and media lessons:

Graul didn't do his boss, Cong. Mark Green, any favors by a) embarrassing the boss and gubernatorial candidate, and b) keeping the story alive with weeks of bobbing and weaving.

Most of all: the story will get fresh and lasting legs because it's finally in the mainstream media - - bigtime - - namely, in the Sunday Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Blogs and websites have a roll to play, but as with the Ament recall, a story doesn't take off in Wisconsin until and unless it's prominently in the big daily paper. (Full disclosure: I worked for The Milwaukee Journal, and The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, from 1983 to 1996.)

Sykes' "soft bigotry of low expectations"

Do voucher supporters want to know if these children are getting a good education?

No they don't. Otherwise they would support some sort of standards and accountability for achievement in Milwaukee's voucher schools.

"We have a moral obligation to make sure every child gets a good education. That's how I -- it's a moral obligation to make sure that we herald success and challenge failure. It's not right to have a system that quits on kids. I mean, some schools may not think they're quitting on kids, but when you shuffle kids through the schools without determining whether or not they can read and write and add and subtract, I view that as quitting on kids. I called it the soft bigotry of low expectations. In other words, you believe certain children can't learn, so, therefore, just move them through. It's kind of a process world, isn't it? It's more important that somebody be shuffled through than it is to determine whether or not they're capable of meeting certain standards in certain grades."

That's voucher supporter, George Bush. Should these comments apply to Milwaukee's voucher program? Most people would say yes and they're right, but the GOP legislature doesn't believe we should care if these kids are being left behind.

See any hypocrisy here? If voucher supporters really cared about these kids they would be spending their time trying to find a good school for them, not lobbying for a way to give a school like L.E.A.D.E.R more taxpayer money in the form of lifting the cap on the school choice program.

The next time Charlie Sykes talks about "standing in the schoolhouse door" he needs to take a look in the mirror, because it is he who is standing there letting the kids who need a quality education most enter the door of a failed school like L.E.A.D.E.R.

Green's top aide admits to freebies from Abramoff

After squirming around like a fish in the boat for months, Mark Green's top aide congressional and campaign aide, Mark Graul, gets nailed for taking freebies from indicted D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

"Graul has given differing accounts, over the last three months, to distance himself from allegations that he took freebies."
But he has failed to distance himself from the allegations and instead run smack into them like a hammer to a nail.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter, Katharine Skiba, goes where no one in the media has gone for months and actually does the job of a reporter by challenging Mark Graul's slippery lies to the media about the fact that he took what amounts to a violation of House ethics rules--an illegal gift from a lobbyist.

The Graul violation in question centers around his taking free tickets from Abramoff's firm to sit in his skybox for a Washington Wizards basketball game. Green has even acknowledged that Graul attended the game.

As Skiba notes, the House ethics rules are very clear on this. Evidently not clear enough to Graul or Green.

"Under House rules, a gift to lawmakers or their aides must be worth less than $50. The rules treat skybox seats at sporting events as equal in value to the event's top-priced individual seat - and in 2000, the top ticket to the Washington Wizards fetched $85."
As has been previously reported, for the game Graul and Green admit he attended as a gift from Abramoff, a request was made for 4 tickets to go to Graul. I know Republicans in D.C. have a hard time with math but $340 is more than $50. In order for Graul to have been within what was a legal "gift" from a lobbyist for the game he would have had to be sitting here by himself.

He wasn't sitting there in the nose bleed seats by himself, he sat in the Abramoff suite, a fact confirmed by another Green staffer in the MJS story.

But it doesn't end there. In e-mails that Graul previously chalked up to an "internet hoax," the product of a "liberal blogger with an ax to grind" and the suggestion that "stuff could be fabricated," it's three strikes and your out for Graul's lies to the media.

He now admits the e-mails are "legitimate." But that means more problems for Green's top aide.

These "legitimate" e-mails also detail how Graul requested tickets for Abramoff's luxury suite.

As Skiba reports, "Under civil laws, federal employees may not solicit anything of value from people doing business with their employer."
Of course the wingnuts say this is not a story--Green's top aide, Graul, breaking House ethics rules and taking freebies from the most infamous indicted lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, AND based on e-mails from Abramoff's lobby shop that Graul himself calls "legitimate," Graul has also requested freebies in violation of civil laws.


Perhaps most damaging is the fact that Green's top campaign aide now has absolutely no credibility with the media, zero, none, nada. Graul has given the media no reason to believe anything he says to them from here until the September GOP primary, or sooner if Green does the right thing and gets rid of Graul. Green surely can't be pleased with Graul's mis-handling of the Delay contributions, so what does Graul have to show for his work on the campaign thus far.

Don't worry Mark (Graul), there might be a career yet for you in D.C. lobbying. You certainly have the experience and connections.

It's the economy...King George

This coming week, King George will give to us little people his State of the Monarchy. One of the things we are sure to hear from his Excellency is that he believes all is well with our economy. Too bad no one believes him.

As poll after poll shows, despite what rhetoric "W" throws out there the reality is people are not happy with our economy. Instead of spending time spinning us, Bush would be wise to spend more time listening to the American people.

State of the Union? Not so good, most say.

A USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll taken last weekend and interviews across the country this week found most Americans pessimistic about the economy.

"Six in 10 said the current economy was only fair or poor, and 54% said economic conditions were getting worse."
One of Bush's many challenges this week is convince people he has the ability to lead the country in the right direction and has plan do so. His problem right now is the American people don't think he does.

By 62%-35%, they were dissatisfied with the way things are going in the USA. That's the most pessimistic view at the start of a year since Bush took office. By 64%-34%, they said Bush didn't have a clear plan for solving the country's problems.
Could it be any of this has anything to do with that sentiment? Tax cuts for the wealthy, turning surpluses into deficits, doing nothing about rising health care costs, cutting programs for those who need help the most, and giving government subsidies to big oil companies while they enjoy record profits while we pay more at the pump.

Expect little change from Dubya this week and more of the same.

Graul caught in his own web

Finally, the Journal Sentinel has performed an act of journalism attempting to get to the bottom of Mark Graul's acceptance of freebie tickets from indicted GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff. At issue is whether or not Graul, campaign manager for Mark Green gubernatorial campaign and longtime Green aide, improperly accepted free tickets in Abramoff's luxury suite to a Washington Wizards basketball game.

As the story recounts in excruciating detail, Graul's story changes every time he is asked about it:

  • "Graul said last week that he probably attended" the game
  • "Interviewed Monday, Graul was asked about the game ... 'The impression I had was the seat was less than $50 (and) the face value of the ticket put us in compliance with the gift rule"
  • "By Tuesday, he was no longer sure he went to the game"

Graul's story also changes when it comes to the issue of the Abramoff office emails that fingered him as requesting numerous freebie tickets: "...details emerge in a series of emails - which Graul once dismissed as a 'hoax' but now concedes are 'legitimate'".

There has been much chatter this week about the alleged ineptitude of Team Doyle's "spin" on issues of ethics. But that truly pales in comparison to Graul's ineptitude, in which he has dodged, weaved, changed his story, hemmed, hawed and hedged for months, keeping the story alive with a trail of conflicting statements and ridiculous assertions.

Predictably, the Graul apologists are already on the scene, led by Jessica McBucher, whose characteristically tendentious post focuses on the use of the word "apparently", as in Graul "apparently took an improper gift from a lobbyist", but that no evidence is presented that taking the freebie tickets actually violated House rules.

Earth to Jessica: the record has established how much the ticket cost. The record has established the allowable value of freebies. The Graul/Ambramoff freebie exceeded the allowable value. Case closed. The only reason the word "apparently" finds its way into the story is because Graul himself continues to play fast and loose with whether or not he actually went to the game.

This all could have been easily avoided if Graul had just 'fessed up when this issue first arose. It was a long time ago, and real voters probably wouldn't have cared that much. The reason it's become a current issue has more to do with Graul's ongoing lack of candor than with what he did on that fateful night back in 2000.

McBucher's Dog Don't Hunt

Jess McBucher has repeatedly tried to make an issue out of how much Russ Feingold raised and spent on his last election in a lame attempt to question Feingold's record of reform.

What Bucher's bride doesn't tell you is that what Feingold raised and spent in the last election cycle came in over a six year period, at an average of $60 per contribution. That's less than McBucher spent bidding on Mark Belling bobblehead.
I just bid on the Mark Belling bobblehead!
It was up to $102 on ebay so I bid $110. It'd be worth 100 times that
to show up Spivak and Bice. posted by Jessica McBride
Also missing from her misinformation is the fact that over a two year period, Feingold's opponents spent over $10 million attacking him. That's the most money spent against any candidate in state history and what was the result--an 11 point win over Tim Michels where Feingold won 54 of Wisconsin's 72 counties,including 27 counties won by Bush.

Sorry Jess, your dog don't hunt. Get over it.

When McBucher's hubby rolls out how much he has raised for his campaign for AG in such glowing spin so as to demonstrate his fundraising prowless, the real question will be did he meet the Feingold standard of $60 per contribution? We'll see.

In her critique of Feingold's success, is she suggesting that Bucher will announce a commitment not to spend any more than those running against him in his race for AG? I doubt it.

McBucher argues that in order for Feingold to have credibility on campaign finance reform he needs to either raise and spend no money, or place a cap on how much he raises and spends. Which one is it? And if it's a cap, what's the amount you would cap spending on a statewide campaign?

I think a lot of people will be interested to find out just what sort of caps on fundraising and spending you are proposing for your hubbies campaign. In fact, I bet you get a story out of the MSM when he proposes it.

And then he might even be called a "Maverick."

Scandal: Doyle takes campaign cash from grateful property tax payer

By Patrick Marley and Steve Walters
(The first of an endless series)

Things went from bad to worse for Gov. Doyle today, when it was revealed that his campaign received a contribution from a homeowner whose property taxes were reduced thanks to provisions in Doyle's budget.

According to campaign finance records, Charlie Pirlot of Beloit donated $500 to Doyle's campaign on December 15, 2005. The donation came just days after Pirlot receieved his property tax bill, showing his taxes were going down by $71.

"This is the kind of 'pay for play' activity that is turning Wisconsin into a cesspool of corruption," bloviated Jay Heck of Common Cause. "Jim Doyle blatantly cut property taxes, and got a generous campaign contribution in return. The influence-peddler who wrote the check even included a note telling Doyle to 'keep up the great work!' It doesn't get much worse than that."

Doyle opponents were quick to pounce on the latest revelations. "The James E. Doyle administration is as foul as a bottle of milk left outside for two days in a July heatwave," thundered Rick Graber of the Republican Party of Wisconsin. "Not even Chuck Chvala would be so bold as to take campaign cash in exchange for cutting someone's property taxes. If James E. Doyle has an ounce of decency, he will return this dirty money, along with every other contribution he received from individuals who saw reductions in their property taxes."

Doyle campaign manager Rich Judge dismissed the allegations. "For chrissakes, we cut the guy's taxes, he was grateful, he sent in a check. Are we supposed to return all the money from families whose kids benefited from the SAGE program too?"

Judge took a long swig of Diet Pepsi before concluding, "Heck and Graber should shut their yaps and get a life."

Saturday, January 28, 2006


Jensen will plead out. He knows there's enough evidence to likely convict him on at least one felony, especially in Dane County. Like Burke and the rest, he will continue to insist he's going to trial until the final moment, when the deal will get cut.

Had Jensen not gotten caught up in the caucus scandal, he might be running for re-election as governor right now. Leading up to 2002, there was great speculation about him running for governor. He could've beaten McCallum in a primary, and been very competitive against Doyle. That's all over now.

The McSilence of the McBucher

More than a month has gone by since the end of the Dan Vrakas/Jennifer Finley spat. Still nothing substantive on the subject from Jessica McBucher, who should have been in a position to know, well, something. Way back on Dec. 14, McBucher wrote:

There might come a time when I will be able to elaborate on this matter, but it's not now. In some ways, it's more interesting than people think and in other ways... it's more banal.

Given the very contentious, very public route the Vrakas/Finley "divorce" took subsequent to that post, it's hard to imagine the truth being "more banal" than people think. Au contraire, Madame McBucher! This would seem an ideal time for you to "elaborate on this matter".

The truth behind Finley's messy depature isn't an academic question. Finley made serious allegations about Vrakas' approach to fiscal management. Was Vrakas' lack of budget cutting ardor truly the reason for her departure, did Vrakas fire her for incompetence, or does the truth lay somewhere in between?

McBucher likes to pretend she's a journalist, from time to time. This would seem an opportune time for her to act like one, instead of covering up the messy truth about what her political pals are up to in Waukesha County government.

McChicken? McGagged? McCatgotyourtongue?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Shouldn't be necessary to say this

But, obviously, it is:

DOJ: Statement on Georgia Thompson Indictment

For More Information Contact: Kelly Kennedy

As stated in the January 24, 2006 news release of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, the indictment charging Georgia Thompson alleges violations of law by her alone, and does not allege wrongdoing by any other person. Those charges were the result of an investigation conducted by experienced, career prosecutors and investigators, both state and federal, and the evidence was reviewed by members of this office, both U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, and the Office of the Dane County District Attorney. It is not appropriate for those involved in the investigation and prosecution to discuss publicly the evidence supporting the charges, or to respond to comments critical or supportive of the indictment. This case will continue to be handled in a professional manner, and the evidence will be presented in court.

The indictment is a charging document only, and Ms. Thompson is at this time presumed innocent.

How to get more gumment bidness

U.S. Rep. Green to Co-host Seminar on Procuring Government Business

WHAT: Green to co-host “Opening Doors to Government Business” seminar for Wisconsin businesses interested in learning how to secure government contracts for their companies

WHEN: Monday, January 30

WHERE: KI Convention Center
333 Main Street
Green Bay
Fundraiser to follow. (OK, I made that up. Sorry. It was just too easy.)

Jensen hopes for jury of illiterates

For all his brave talk, it's pretty clear that Scott Jensen doesn't want to go to trial.. In Dane County, he's afraid he'll get a jury that's too well-informed.

But you'd have to find a pretty remote area to find people who haven't heard about the caucus scandal. Maybe he's hoping for a jury of illiterates who don't own TV sets.

Chai Vang's murder trial was in Sawyer County, but they brought the jurors in from Dane County. They still convicted him.

Jensen insists he wants a trial, but would be welll-advised to cop a plea. If there is any justice, the deal will include him leaving public office. Maybe he thinks he can delay things until his term ends in January.

I only hope the Democrats have a candidate this year.

Accountability? Well, in some cases

There's a time for accountability, this story suggests:

State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) said she wanted Doyle administration officials to testify soon before the Legislature's Joint Audit Committee about the Milwaukee Job Development contracts because of concerns about accountability.

Darling, who has been an outspoken critic of Milwaukee W-2 agencies' performance, said she wanted assurances that state officials were effectively monitoring the new agency.
It seems Republicans believe that accountability is fine for poor families when it comes to social programs, but not for their schools.

Just replace the references to the agencies above with schools and you will quickly see statements that never seem to be able to come out of Republican mouths.

The GOP used to be the party of accountability. What happened?

Where the buck stops

An afterthought on Scott Walker's buck-passing:
“The buck stops with me and that’s why I’m here today,” he said.

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker today publicly gave county Parks Director Sue Black a six-month deadline to erase deficits or “I’ll find somebody else to do that.”
If the buck really stopped with him, Walker would say: "If I can't fix it in six months, you should get a county executive who can."

-- From Working for Change. (Click cartoon to enlarge)

Inquiring minds want to know ...

Who is the mysterious blogger who signs himself John Galt (the Ayn Rand character), but who appears to be the brains behind the Charlie Sykes school choice ad equating Gov. Jim Doyle with some of the most notorious racists and segregationists of the 20th Century?

Speculation welcome. No reward. Here's a link to his postings.

The Good Old Days of Tommylot

I do not subscribe to the "everybody does it" theory of legal defense. I think DA Brian Blanchard got it right the other day when he said, "That's a confession, not a defense."

But the timing of Jim Klauser's endorsement of Mark Green for governor Thursday provides an excellent opportunity to reflect on the Good Old Days of Wisconsin's Camelot, when Tommy the Thompson ruled and James the Klauser was the wizard, and the people all pay tribute.

Herr Klauser was the one they called the Deputy Governor, Thompson's brain, his Karl Rove, if you will. Come to think of it, there are a lot of similarities in the Thompson-Klauser relationship to the Bush-Rove team. A likeable doofus out front, mangling the language, while the boys in the back room run the gummint.

Klauser was Tommy's secretary of the Department of Administration, but under Klauser they called it the Department of All. He had almost absolute power that cut across all state agencies, not just DOA. And he also masterminded and called the shots in Thompson's campaigns.

His official biography at We Energies, where he is now ensconced, says:

Mr. Klauser served as Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Administration (1986-1996). He was designated Secretary Emeritus by Governor Thompson on Jan. 23, 2001. He was Special Counsel to the Governor from 1994 to 1996. Mr. Klauser has served on numerous boards, commissions and committees; among them -- the Wisconsin State Investment Board, the State Building Commission, the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board, the Wisconsin Housing and Development Authority Board, the Wisconsin Sesquicentennial Commission and the Local Property Tax Relief Commission. He was a consultant from 1992 to 1996 for the Republican National Committee and Republican Governors Association. He served as General Chairman, Thompson for Governor Committee (1986-2000). He also served as Co-Chairman, George W. Bush for President–Wisconsin 2000 and as Chairman of the Bush-Cheney 2004 Wisconsin campaign. He is the Wisconsin Finance Chairman of the Republican National Committee.
I highlighted one line just to help you out.

That's right, Klauser served simultaneously as DOA secretary and Thompson's campaign chairman. With one hand he awarded state contracts, and with the other collected contributions for the Thompson campaign. (Perhaps not literally. But he certainly oversaw the campaign, including its monumental fundraising efforts.)

Marc Marotta left his DOA job recently and became Doyle's campaign chairman. Do you think anyone would have objected if he just held both jobs at once?

Thompson used to say he had no idea who gave money to his campaigns. But Klauser may have had a clue, since his wife, Shirley, was on the campaign payroll, kept its books and prepared its finance reports. The checks and donor information came to Klauser's house.

Not that there's anything wrong with that???

If you wonder what it was like to do business with the State of Wisconsin in the Thompson-Klauser era, here's a look at how it all worked.

Again, nothing Tommy did excuses any wrongdoing by anyone else. But, as he cashes Klauser's check, Mark Green might want to dial down the sanctimony just a notch.

Letting the people speak on the war

Citizens of at least 20 communities in Wisconsin will be able to vote on April 4 on whether the United States should bring the troops home from Iraq, The Chicago Tribune reports.

So what on earth is the matter with officials in Watertown, who have refused to put it on the ballot, despite petitions with 900 signatures, and amended language to satisfy concerns that were raised? Now it's in court. What is there to be afraid of in letting people have a voice?

Helping Green do the right thing

Is Rep. Steve Freese trying to do Mark Green a favor, and help him find a way to get rid of the $30,000 in Tom DeLay money that's still sitting in his campaign account?

Or is he trying to highlight the DeLay money and help Scott Walker?

Whatever his motive, Freese is introducing a bill to clear the way for Green to get rid of that money. Green says he wants to dispose of the tainted dough, but not badly enough to give it to a non-partisan voter education and registration program, which he could legally do right now.

Freese's memo correctly points out that federal law already allows campaigns to give money to charity. Rep. Paul Ryan, for example, could dispose of the $25,000 in DeLay money sitting in his account. He says he'll get rid of it if DeLay's convicted, and does not seem under the same pressure that Green is -- probably because Ryan doesn't have a competitive race.

Ryan first said the money was already spent, but most recently took the "dump upon conviction" position. He did give back some really embarrassing money he had gotten directly from convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, but has gotten a pass from the media on the DeLay money, ,even though Green says he will get rid of his $30,000 -- someday.

Freese's memo:


To: All Legislators

From: Rep. Steve Freese

Date: January 26, 2006

Re: Co-sponsorship of LRB-4371/1, relating to authorization for registrants under the campaign finance law to make donations to charitable organizations or the common school fund from campaign treasuries. I am introducing legislation that is similar to federal campaign finance law allowing campaign treasures to make donations from their respective campaign account to either a charitable organization or the common school fund for any reason at any time.

Currently, a registrant is generally prohibited from making a disbursement from moneys solicited for political purposes for a purpose that is other than political. From time to time our campaigns are called upon to make charitable donations that would benefit various entities. This bill will allow such contributions. The analysis by the LRB can be found below. If you would like to co-sponsor LRB-4371/1, please contact the office of Rep. Freese at 6-7502 by February 1, 2006

Analysis by the Legislative Reference Bureau

Currently, with certain exceptions, a registrant under the campaign finance law is general prohibited from making a disbursement expenditure) from moneys solicited fro political purposes for a purpose that is other than political. However, a registrant that receives a contribution from an unregistered nonresident, an unlawful corporate contribution, an anonymous contribution exceeding $10, or a cash contribution exceeding $0 may donate the contribution to a charitable organization r to the state common school, fund. In addition, residual moneys in a campaign treasury when a registrant ceases financial activity may be treated likewise.

This bill provides that a registrant may make a donation from a campaign treasury to a charitable organization or to the common school fund at any time for any reason.

Bush ratings lowest ever

The LA Times reports:
WASHINGTON — As President Bush prepares for next week's State of the Union address, he faces widespread discontent over his job performance and the nation's direction that could threaten his party in the 2006 election, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.

In the survey, 43% of Americans said they approved of Bush's performance as president — his weakest showing ever in a Times poll.

He received even lower marks for his handling of the economy, healthcare and Iraq — especially from women, who the poll found had turned against him on several fronts. And by a 2-1 ratio, those surveyed said the nation needed to change direction from the overall course Bush had set.
It's no better in a CBS/NYT poll:
(CBS) President Bush's approval rating is stuck at a dismal 42 percent as he heads into next week's State of the Union address, according to the latest CBS News/New York Times poll.

Fifty-one percent of Americans give him a negative job approval rating. It's the first time in his presidency he'll give a State of the Union speech with a majority of the residents of the country saying they disapprove of the job he's doing.
Hat tip: Political Wire.

Goo-goos get their 15 minutes of fame

All Will Rogers and I know is what we read in the newspapers, and what I know from reading them the last few days is that there are some peculiar things going on.

The State Ethics Board is asked to investigate whether a Dept. of Transportation official violated the law when he sponsored a campaign fund-raiser for the governor. The board does an exhaustive investigation and finds that the DOT employee did nothing illegal. But the chairman of the board offers the gratuitous observation that the board thinks it should be illegal. That's what makes the news. That's an interesting new standard.

Meanwhile, Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign has gone far beyond being an advocate for campaign finance reform. He's become part of the investigation, a cheerleader for more charges, and now had some ideas about reorganizing the government, too, apparently to make every position civil service. McCabe in the Wis. State Journal:

Mike McCabe, the head of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, suggested there was a different sort of inertia at work, one of political favoritism. McCabe said the presence of politically connected officials like [Pat] Farley without good qualifications, especially in controversial cases such as the travel contract, undermine public confidence in government.

"They're political people and therein lies the problem," said McCabe, adding that he thinks prosecutors will try to use the heavy penalty Thompson faces - up to 20 years of imprisonment if convicted - to convince her to give evidence against her bosses.
McCabe apparently is the one who told the Badger Herald about the grand jury:

[McCabe] said University of Wisconsin officials told him a federal grand jury is probing the state travel contract given to Adelman Travel Systems of Milwaukee.

"I heard about it from UW officials," McCabe said. "But we've been contacted over the course of a pretty long period of time by FBI agents, state justice department officials and the U.S. Attorney's Office about this."

The authorities have been looking for information on Doyle's campaign contributions from Adelman officials over the past six months, McCabe said, and are also investigating other campaign practices that have raised red flags.

"Obviously in this case, they have reached the point where they feel a federal grand jury is warranted," McCabe said, adding other state-contract awards may also be brought into question...

McCabe said a procurement committee member who was mentioned in an article in the Wisconsin State Journal told McCabe he was involved in the grand jury inquiry.
McCabe bragged to the Journal Sentinel that he has offered records to the investigators -- and reaches his own conclusion:

Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, said his organization had given the state investigators records of $43,000 in utility-related donations to Doyle's campaign. McCabe said the state investigators told him they were going to turn the materials over to the office of Milwaukee-based U.S. Attorney Steven M. Biskupic, who is leading the state-federal probe.

McCabe said his group also volunteered records documenting increased donations by SBC executives to the governor's campaign in 2004. The timing of SBC donations to Doyle were "interesting," McCabe said, because the governor later signed a $108 million, five-year telecommunications contract with an alliance led by SBC.

McCabe said state investigators came to him asking for records of campaign donations to aid Doyle's re-election bid. The non-profit Democracy Campaign has the most complete database of campaign gifts of $100 or more to Capitol officials.

"It's not our job to decide if laws have been broken," McCabe said. "It's the job of citizens to decide." He added that he personally believes the campaign cash played too great a role in Doyle administration decisions.
McCabe tells JS columnist Mike Nichols:

The real scandal in Wisconsin is what is perfectly legal," Mike McCabe, the executive director of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, told me. "We have a legalized system of extortion and bribery."
This isn't all, by any means, or even the worst. It's what was relatively easy to grab in a Google search.

McCabe goes a little farther every day to take on the roles of investigator, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner.

And the news media just lap it up.

Pretty heady stuff for a guy who used to work as an Assembly staffer (before the cleanup) and got 16% of the primary vote when he ran for the Assembly himself. (Like Ed Garvey, he decided that if he couldn't win, there must be something wrong with the system. In both cases, a little introspection could have gone a long way.)

NOTE: We should not ignore Jay Heck of Common Cause, who runs a strong second, but McCabe wins the whoring off to the media contest hands-down.

Heck, by the way, has a few skeletons of his own. He knows firsthand how sleazy Capitol politics can be. The Wis. State Journal, in 2004:
Jay Heck, former communications director for the Senate Democratic Caucus (SDC), recalled with irony the campaigning he said he and other caucus staff members did during his tenure from 1989 to 1991... "Much of that (campaigning) was done right on state property," Heck said. "You were, essentially, in many cases, the campaign apparatus for the candidates."
Even after leaving the caucus and joining Common Cause, Heck never blew the whistle.

No real reformer in GOP leadership race

Three Republicans jockey for position in the race to succeed Tom DeLay as House majority leader.

Here's a group that thinks none of them are worth a damn.. With videos, too.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Why no real opponent for Herb Kohl?

We like him, we really like him.

Feingold's numbers are a little tighter, because Repubs are negative on him.

No news here: Walker passes the buck

Scott Walker pretends, for the first time in his career, to take responsibility for something, but actually passes the buck again, as he always does:

From the Journal Sentinel Daywatch:

Walker issues ultimatum to parks director

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker today publicly gave county Parks Director Sue Black a six-month deadline to erase deficits or “I’ll find somebody else to do that.”

Black responded by asking for the community’s help in finding ways to meet the parks’ needs in the tight county budget. She recounted how she repeatedly rejected Walker’s job offer in 2003 because of her reluctance to take over what she viewed as a failing system struggling for adequate resources.

Gaylord Nelson, a former U.S. Senator and Wisconsin governor, finally convinced her to try to turn it around, Black told the County Board’s Finance and Audit Committee, which quizzed her about a surprise projected deficit of $2.3 million for 2005 in parks.

“I’ve been given three to six months,” noted Black, former state parks director. “I’ve been trying to fix it since I walked in the door.”

Walker told the committee that he fully expected that with an infusion of new fiscal oversight, Black would get the job done by this summer.

Walker answered criticisms that he had not taken responsibility for the bad news, which threatens to leave his third straight budget in the red at year-end.

“The buck stops with me and that’s why I’m here today,” he said.

He alluded to his campaign for governor and denied it had caused him to take his eye off of county government.

Supervisor Gerry Broderick, echoing Walker, defended Black’s passion for parks and ability to motivate, and said the public understood those qualities as well. He blamed Walker’s tax-freeze budgeting and a problematic merger of parks and public works for the deficits. The merger has since been undone, with parks and public works returning to separate departments.

“If six months from now this is not solved, the most foolish thing in the world would be to get rid of Sue Black,” Broderick said.

Also at the committee meeting, Assistant District Attorney David Feiss, white-collar crime unit leader, said the criminal investigation into the Milwaukee Public Museum’s near collapse was his sole focus now that he has cleared other cases. Decisions on whether any charges are warranted should come in about one month, Feiss said.

-By Dave Umhoefer

Can't wait for concealed weapons in Capitol

The Richmond Times-Dispatch:

A remorseful John S. Reid, a Republican from Henrico County, apologized on the House of Delegates floor today for accidentally firing his gun in his legislative office this morning.

In a freak accident, Reid said his gun went off when he was ejecting the magazine -- which contains bullets --from the .380-caliber Kel-Tec handgun. A bullet was fired into a bullet-proof vest that happened to be hanging inside his office door.

The bullet proof vest worked: it stopped the bullet.
UPDATE: Gary Fisher reminds me Wisconsin already has had guns in the Capitol:

Gun-toting Officer Causes Capitol Stir

Wisconsin State Journal, March 15, 2002

While checking the state Senate gallery after someone had loudly demanded to testify about a proposed concealed gun law, the sergeant-at-arms found a man toting a gun.

The armed man turned out to be a police chief in plain clothes who'd taken off his jacket, exposing the gun. But the experience alarmed Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Jon

The incident has prompted Senate officials to review policies on firearms in the building.

Just before the incident last week, Senate Democrats had blocked a vote on the bill to allow ordinary citizens to get permission to carry concealed weapons.

Hochkammer said state statutes already permit law enforcement or military personnel to carry a weapon in the Capitol.

Capitol Police talked to the armed man, who turned out to be Fairchild Police Chief David Wagner, said Bob Seitz, an aide to Sen. Dave Zien, R-Eau Claire, the main supporter of the concealed weapons bill.

When Wagner entered the Capitol, he showed his badge and told officers guarding the door that he had a gun, Hochkammer said.

Hochkammer said he wished that he'd been warned.

"It would have been nice to know he was carrying," Hochkammer said. "We see police in here carrying weapons a lot and we encourage them to notify us, but not everyone knows what the rules are."

Said Senate Chief Clerk Donald Schneider: "The fact he was in the building with a sidearm gave people pause. It's the first incident like that we are aware of in the gallery."

... Wagner said he came to Madison to testify on the concealed weapons bill. "I do not have a problem with the law-abiding citizen possessing a firearm," Wagner said. "The criminal who has a gun is going to be a danger to me."

Wagner has been Fairchild chief for two years and a law enforcement officer for 10 years.

--Mike Lester, Rome GA News-Tribune, via Cagle.

Oprah Winfrey Says She is 'Deeply Sorry'

John Lott, Mary Rosh both like guns

The National Rifle Assn., always quick on the trigger, fired back today at a report issued yesterday by State Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, which opposed carrying concealed weapons.

The NRA diatribe is long and not deserving of a log, detailed reply -- if you think they are a credible source I probably can't dissuade you -- but there are a couple of things in their document that cry out to be mentioned.

One is citing John Lott as an expert. Lott has been discredited for, among other things, posing as a female student, Mary Rosh, to defend his statistics.

The other is the NRA's observation that a statewide poll which showed Wisconsinites against concealed weapons by a 63-31 margin would have actuallly showed a majority in favor if it hadn't included Milwaukee and Madison. Whaddya know? Lop off the state's two biggest cities and you get a different result. The same would be true in statewide elections, of course, if the NRA and the GOP could just figure out how to get rid of those darned city voters.

Waukesha program flush with success

The Daily Reporter brings news of an important breakthrough for Waukesha.

Waukesha is chucking the three primitive toilets in City Hall and replacing them with the superior engineering of Kohler Co.'s most sophisticated bowl - the Cimarron. The Cimarron, (that's it at right)named after a river in New Mexico and Colorado, uses half as much water as the traditional model but has superior flushing power, said Kohler Sanitary Products Marketing Manager Kathryn Streeby.

Kohler put the Cimarron through extensive testing before introducing it to the world in January 2004. Its Class 5 plumbing technology - named after the rating rafters give to violent rapids - handled 100 feet of toilet paper in a single sitting. During
another laboratory test, it demonstrated the ability to flush 31.5 ounces of bean paste.
I recently shared with readers the first rule of sanitary engineering.

Bean paste flows downhill, too

The new toilets are actually part of a much bigger effort as Waukesha, desperate for water, is beginning to look at conservation. Story.

Sykes joins Vukmir as Swaggart 'winner'

Charlie Sykes and Leah Vukmir have teamed up on the school choice issue recently, pushing to lift all limits on enrollment.

Now they share another distinction: Eye On Wisconsin has named Sykes the winner of its second Swaggart award for hypocrisy. Vukmir won the first one. And who will be lucky winner #3?

-- M.e. Cohen, via Cagle.

Dems on defense

Seth Zlotocha outlines the three-pronged Republican campaign strategy to defeat Gov. Jim Doyle, and says it all seems to be running pretty smoothly. He concludes:
Right now Republicans are controlling the debate and subsequently the road to the Governor's Office. It's about time for the Democrats to start playing some offense.
Good analysis.

Green, Walker in no position to lecture on ethics

Playground Politics, a right-leaning anonymous blog written by a Capitol insider, has an interesting and unexpected take on the Adelman travel case:
... [T]he last people who should be lecturing anyone about ethics are Mark Green and Scott Walker.

Georgia Thompson is a civil servant, not an appointee of the Doyle administration. Those who try to paint Thompson as a Doyle ally are missing the point that she was hired while Scott McCallum was governor. She is not, as Mark Green would have you believe, "an official of Governor Doyle's administration." Doyle had nothing to do with her hiring and Thompson, having passed her review process, has job protection that precludes her from being disciplined prior to the outcome of this case. She can be transferred into another job, and that's about it. And Mark Green, as a former legislator, damn well knows that. This is about as disingenuous as Green calling himself a fiscal conservative after voting for that Medicare prescription drug giveaway.

Scott Walker's release, on the other hand, shows only that the man is incapable of understanding what the indictment actually says. Walker would like to infer that Thompson was pressured into using political considerations in the course of her work, something not indicated anywhere in the actual indictment. Of course, Scott's a college dropout. Should we really expect him to successfully process the contents of a legal document? Probably not...

What's really sanctimonious and full of BS, however, is the Republican criticism of Doyle over the Thompson matter. If we're going to play the guilt by association game, Mark Green's campaign manager was the recipient of a basketful of Jack Abramoff freebies. Green also has yet to return $30K from a fund controlled by also-indicted Rep. Tom DeLay. Scott Walker's old pal and fundraiser Nick Hurtgen is on his way to jail for extortion. Doyle, meanwhile, has a bit of a snafu over at DOA with a state employee he claims to have never met. If that in fact is the case, Doyle is by far the least of the three sinners. Besides, didn't that "last, best offer" by Adelman Travel save the state $30K?

If anything, the Thompson matter shows that everyone running for governor may end up ethically compromised.

It's not TABOR, it's WUHT-PAH

We warned you that TABOR, a year and a half in the making, would be reappearing soon in a new guise, after a face lift, fingerprint removal, and some other cosmetic surgery.

Oh, new name, too.

Wednesday, State Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, said it will be called -- TA-DA! -- the Wisconsin Taxpayer Protection Amendment."

Pretty inspired stuff. WUHT-PAH doesn't resonate quite as well as TABOR, but I'm sure we'll get used to it.

State Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit, wasn't impressed. “If it walks like TABOR and talks like TABOR, it’s TABOR," Robson said.

“TABOR is a proven failure,” Robson said. “Colorado sent up TABOR as a trial balloon and it came crashing down like the Hindenburg. Democrats have offered responsible ways to bring down property taxes. TABOR is an abdication of responsibility.”

When 'nothing improper' becomes 'improper'

Doyle fund-raiser called

legal but improper

3rd paragraph of story:

Wednesday's report said Deputy Transportation Secretary Ruben Anthony Jr. did not act improperly by inviting dozens of consultants who compete for $100 million in state engineering contracts to a Sept. 8 barbecue fund-raiser he organized. The Ethics Board concluded that Anthony never indicated to the invitees that he would use his position to steer contracts to particular companies.

Emphasis mine, of course.

Sykes commercial too much even for

right-wing group that plays on bigotry

It turns out that the vile commercial produced by Charlie Sykes, Mikel Holt, and Jim Gilles of WTMJ radio's production staff was too much even for the Coalition for America's Families.

The Coalition for America's Families is a group that will stop at almost nothing to try to damage Gov. Jim Doyle, as evidenced by television ad its ran last year, playing on anti-gay and anti-immigrant feelings to attack Doyle's budget. Many felt the anti-immigrant commercial was tinged with racism, while the other spot bashed gays.

Sykes, who has been running a free commercial comparing Doyle to segregationist Govs. Orville Faubus and George Wallace, proudly announced that the right-wing group was going to pay to run his commercial on three Milwaukee radio stations with primarily black audiences.

In fact, the Journal Sentinel reports, the group has recut and cleaned up the Sykes-Holt commercial to eliminate the references to Faubus and Wallace:
Holt said Wednesday that the Coalition for America's Families is now running an ad that uses the voices of parents instead of students and does not mention Faubus and Wallace. But it still includes the idea of Doyle standing in the schoolhouse door.
The commercial came under fire Wednesday from the NAACP and a large group of African-American leaders and activists. Holt, editor of the Milwaukee Community Journal, a black newspaper, tried to apply some spin and say that comparing Doyle to Faubus and Wallace wasn't calling him a racist:

Holt said he thought the ads were misunderstood.

We "never called Doyle a racist," he said. "All they said was that if he doesn't lift the cap, they will be thrown out of the program and it will have the chilling effect of his standing in the schoolhouse door. There was no maliciousness involved."
The problem wasn't that they were misunderstood. It's that they were understood perfectly.

Even the Coalition for America's Families, which sets the bar very low, decided this spot didn't measure up. That's saying something, when a group that has relied on bigotry in its previous ads thinks this one needs editing.

Columnist Eugene Kane on the controversial ads:
The news conference at the NAACP office on N. King Drive was an intriguing mix of race and politics. Unlike the usual scenario in which black activists blast white politicians for insensitivity on racial issues, this was a case of blacks objecting to the use of stark racial imagery from this nation's troubled past to slander a white Democratic governor with a good reputation among African-American voters...

The news conference was intended to demonstrate that many black voters aren't stupid enough to fall for an ad that exaggerates the school choice debate in such an unrealistic - and insulting - manner.

The Southern governors who stood in the door against black students were willing to do anything - no matter how extreme - to drive home their point of view.

Apparently, the school choice debate brings out that same kind of ugliness in some people.
A related question: Was the spot really the idea of the Coalition for America's Families to begin with? This Oct. 25 item from Sykes and a post from John Galt on the Coalition's website suggest that it was.

No reformer in race for GOP leader

Three Republicans jockey for position in the race to succeed Tom DeLay as House majority leader.

Here's a group that thinks none of them are worth a damn.. With videos, too.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

NAACP remembers Wallace, Faubus;

condemns ad linking Doyle to them

Jerry Ann Hamilton of the Milwaukee NAACP deplored school choice ads comparing Gov. Jim Doyle to Orville Faubus and George Wallace Wednesday, and reminded people what Wallace and Faubus represent:

In 1957, Gov. Faubus declared that “Blood will run in the streets shall Negro students attempted to enter Central High School.” On the first day of school, Faubus ordered 250 Arkansas National Guardsman to allow only white students to enter Central High School. Later under Federal protection, nine brave school children endured horrific treatment and entered Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

In 1963, Gov. Wallace uttered these disheartening words to a generation of citizens who dreamt of a better America for themselves and their children “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever.” It was against this backdrop that on June 11, 1963, he stood in the doorway of Alabama University to block the attempts of Vivian Malone and James Hood to register at the University of Alabama.

In contrast, in 2005 Governor Doyle stated before the NAACP National Convention last summer that we have made much progress but victory cannot be declared until we “are free from segregated neighborhoods and discrimination and until opportunity is truly equal for everyone.” These are not the words of a segregationist.
Hamilton took part in a news conference with other African American leaders to express support for Gov. Jim Doyle's efforts to reach a reasonable compromise on school choice in Milwaukee.

Among those attending was Doyle's son, Gus. Others: Michael Morgan, Antonio Riley, Cory Nettles,Martha Love,Cecelia Gore,Ralph Hollmon,Greg Wesley,Danae Davis, Rev. Roland Womack,Rev. Charles McClellan,Donsia Strong-Hill,Wendell Harris Sr., Genyne Edwards, Felmers Chaney,Tamiko Dorgan, Martha Toran, and Rosie Caradine-Lewis.

Meanwhile, word apparently has reached City Hall that there's a debate going on about school choice caps. Mayor Tom Barrett weighed in with his own plan.