Email date: 7/1/09
In this update:
1. Assembly committee approves ’revolving door’ bill
2. GAB moves to sue 8 candidates for late reports
3. The sickening influence of campaign contributions
The Assembly Judiciary and Ethics Committee yesterday gave its approval to a Democracy Campaign-backed bill addressing the revolving door between lawmaking and lobbying. The legislation, Assembly Bill 245, requires a one-year waiting period before departing state legislators can become lobbyists.
The same committee held a public hearing on two other reform bills, and the Democracy Campaign testified in support of both. Assembly Bill 304 bans convicted felons from lobbying in Wisconsin. The problem the legislation addresses is hardly an abstraction. In recent years, two legislators convicted of felony misconduct in public office started lobbying shortly after being driven out of office. Democratic Senator Brian Burke of Milwaukee was representing special interest clients while still in home confinement while Republican Assembly Majority Leader Steve Foti of Oconomowoc was lobbying in the halls of the Capitol under terms of his sentence allowing work release privileges.
Assembly Bill 322 aims to make records showing the financial holdings of state lawmakers and other public officials more accessible to the public. The bill does it in two ways. First, it clears the way for all of the statements of economic interest filed by state officials to be posted on the Internet. And it gets rid of a requirement in current state law that officials be notified of the name and address of any citizen who wishes to examine the records.
The financial interest disclosure law is critically important because it enables the public to see whether public officials have economic conflicts of interest when they are making decisions. But the law was enacted before the advent of the Internet and to this day statements of economic interest cannot be posted on a state Web site. However, at least two newspapers at one time or another have requested all of the statements for state legislators and posted them on their Web sites.
While the notification requirement identifying those interested in reviewing the records may be only a nuisance to news organizations, it is both a nuisance and a barrier to many citizens. The Democracy Campaign has been contacted dozens of times by members of the public who wish to examine officials’ statements of economic interest but are reluctant to have their identity revealed. In some cases, citizens fear that doing so could damage positive relationships they have with a legislator or other public official. In other cases, they fear reprisals. Whether or not reprisals are likely, fear of them is real and has had a chilling effect on the public’s willingness to access these public records.
In a few instances, citizens have asked if the Democracy Campaign could request the statements of economic interest and then pass them along to those interested in examining them. Under current law, that is illegal. However, because the law was written at a time when the Internet could not be envisioned, it is not illegal for a group like WDC to request the records and post them on the Web. Indeed, the Democracy Campaign did just that for the candidates in this year’s state Supreme Court election. We posted links to the records in profiles of Shirley Abrahamson and Randy Koschnick.
The Democracy Campaign recently reported record spending in 2008 state legislative races, but had to note in our analysis that our tally did not include figures for several candidates whose campaign finance reports were still not available. And this was after we had taken the unusual step several weeks earlier of filing a formal open records request in an attempt to obtain the reports. Well, on Monday the state Government Accountability Board announced it plans to take eight candidates to court for failing to file the required reports. There’s more on that in our latest Big Money Blog.
We recently posted a blog giving 113 million reasons why the future of health care reform in America is so uncertain. Here is an excellent article that was posted last Friday on TruthDig.com that delves deeper into the same subject.