Taking Revenge on Good Government

 By State Senator Julie Lassa

In recent weeks, I’ve been using my weekly column to highlight the legislative agenda Senate Democrats have announced, our “Badger Blueprint.”  Our series of initiatives is intended to strengthen Wisconsin’s struggling middle class by growing our economy, fostering innovation in both state government and the private sector, and promoting greater opportunity for all our citizens.   You can find information about the plan at WIbadgerblueprint.com or by following #WIBadgerBlueprint.  These are the kinds of priorities my constituents have told me they think the Legislature ought to pursue.

They certainly haven’t been asking for what the Legislature is focusing on right now, unfortunately: a wholesale rollback of Wisconsin’s clean government laws.   As the Tomah Journal editorialized, “Walker and his Tea Party allies have transformed legal precedent and state law to establish a largely subterranean system of campaign finance.  It’s no longer any of the public’s business who funds election campaigns and what donors get in return. Welcome to a thoroughly new era of Wisconsin politics.”

The six years of Governor Walker’s administration have been marked by investigations into campaign misconduct.  The first investigation into illegal campaign activity led to six of the Governor's aides and associates being convicted.  The second looked into allegations of illegal coordination between Governor Walker’s recall campaign and conservative political groups.  As the New York Times reported in a recent editorial entitled “The Revenge of Scott Walker,”  “In July, a deeply split Wisconsin Supreme Court – several of whose justices were backed by the same groups in their election campaign – shut down the investigation, adopting an unprecedented reading of the state’s campaign-finance laws to find no problem with the activities in question.”

The Governor and the Republican majority in the Legislature are working to make sure this kind of trouble goes away – not by strengthening our clean government laws, but by gutting them.   The Governor has already signed into law exempting only the political class from the John Doe Law.  As the Times wrote, “Mr. Walker signed a bill to protect public officials like himself from an effective and well-established tool for rooting out political corruption." The editorial continued, "Bribery, official misconduct, campaign-finance violations and many other election law offenses – all are now exempt from a law that has served Wisconsin well, and without controversy, since the mid-19th century.”

The Governor and Republican legislators are also trying to overhaul the state’s campaign finance laws, and do away with the Government Accountability Board, the nonpartisan agency that enforces those laws as well as state ethics provisions.   As the Tomah Journal wrote, “The state legislature is all but certain to eliminate the Government Accountability Board and replace it with a partisan body with no ability to enforce state elections laws.  To those pushing the bill, a neutered election agency is a virtue.  They believe individuals and corporations with millions (or billions) to spend on election campaigns should be able to wield their disproportionate power in complete anonymity.”

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel agrees.  “This attack on the nonpartisan watchdog agency that supervises state elections and conducts investigations into ethics violations reeks of payback partisanship,” it editorialized.  “Under it, and other measures, legislators would like to set themselves up as the sole arbiters of transparency and accountability.  That’s not how our system of government is supposed to work.”

“A thoroughly new era of Wisconsin politics,” indeed. That Republicans are so focused on protecting their own power, to the exclusion of important issues like our struggling schools, crumbling roads, and lackluster economy, shows that they are completely out of touch with the real needs and interests of Wisconsin citizens.  The people of our state want political leaders who will help them build a better future for all Wisconsin – and not one that only benefits politicians.