Lassa bill would prevent conflicts of interest
Madison — Senior executives at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) would be subject to the same ethics requirements as state employees under a bill authored by State Senator Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point) that passed the State Senate today.
All legislative board members of WEDC joined Lassa in introducing the bill, including Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha), Senator Rich Zipperer (R-Pewaukee), and Representative Mary Williams (R-Medford). The bill now goes to the Assembly for approval.
“In creating WEDC, the Legislature gave the new entity substantial public financing and great flexibility,” Lassa said. “This bill will clarify that those individuals who make decisions that affect the use of taxpayer dollars at WEDC are expected to uphold the same standards of conduct and dedication to the public interest to which decision-makers in government agencies are held.”
The Legislature created WEDC, a public-private corporation which replaced the state Department of Commerce, last year. Under current statutes, the Chief Executive Officer is the only WEDC employee subject to state ethics provisions. Now that the corporation has established additional executive positions, it is possible to refer to them in statutes as well.
The Lassa bill will make WEDC employees through the vice president level subject to the financial reporting and ethics requirements that currently apply to most public officials and high-ranking employees in other state agencies. It will also apply to similar positions WEDC may create in the future, giving the corporation the ability to restructure its management without requiring additional ethics legislation.
WEDC senior managers would be required to file statements of economic interest, and would be prohibited from activities such as accepting gifts or meals in return for official actions or using their office to gain unlawful benefits for themselves or family members. The bill was unanimously endorsed by the WEDC Board of Directors, and has the support of Governor Scott Walker and WEDC Secretary Paul Jadin.
“Even though WEDC is a public-private corporation, its managers are making decisions about the use of a $161 million budget,” Lassa said. “It’s important that these managers know they are required to live up to the public trust. I’m glad the Senate passed the bill with bipartisan support and I hope the Assembly will take in up in the next few days.”