The Blame Game

It’s all over but the blaming. The state Legislature’s 2011-12 regular session has careened to a close, with both parties accusing the other of blocking progress on Wisconsin’s number-one issue: job creation. “Unfortunately, despite holding two so-called special jobs sessions, the Republican-controlled Legislature has spent more time focusing on giving money to private voucher schools while undermining public education, an extreme social agenda and power grabs,” groused Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, in a press release. Barca’s office has identified more than a dozen jobs bills introduced by Democrats that failed to pass, some of which were even included…

Might Isn’t Everything

A few weeks back, this column noted that virtually all the lobbying muscle regarding the redrawing of voter boundaries was brought to bear against the bills that sailed through. That undercuts the popular notion that outside special interests drive the political process, since here the push came entirely from an inside special interest—the GOP-controlled state Legislature itself. But that’s not the only example of how lawmakers serve other masters besides money and might. Take the state’s voter identification law. Nearly three dozen lobby groups registered in opposition to these new voting requirements, which two Dane County judges have in recent…

Sales Tax

Todd Berry is nothing if not realistic. His 18 years at the helm of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance have taught him that good public policy often doesn’t get past the gatekeeper of politics. “The pressure on elected officials in a largely career Legislature is to make people happy and get re-elected,” Berry says. So while his group has identified some troubling trends regarding the state’s sales tax, he’s not expecting lawmakers to embrace reforms. In February, the start of income tax season, Berry’s nonpartisan research organization released a report on the state’s sales tax. It noted that collections have been…

Free News

The other day at the Wisconsin Newspaper Association’s annual convention in Madison, I represented the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism on a panel titled, “Nonprofit News: What You Need to Know About ‘Free’ Media.” Also on the panel were Steven Greenhut, vice president of journalism for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which runs state-based news outlets across the country, including Wisconsin Reporter; and Lisa Graves, executive director of the Madison-based Center for Media and Democracy. The panel, sponsored by the Madison professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, was timely: Wisconsin Reporter and the Wisconsin Center…

Union Money

When the unions’ lobbying money flowed, it really flowed. And then, for the most part, it dried up. During the first half of 2011, labor unions collectively reported spending more than $7 million on lobbying in Wisconsin. This six-month total was $2 million more than these same unions spent during the entire prior two-year legislative session, 2009-10. Four unions representing public employees in Wisconsin led the state Government Accountability Board’s top 10 list of spenders between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2011. These unions—the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), AFSCME Council 11 and AFSCME International—reported spending a…

Inside Special Interests

By now, the notion that outside special interests drive the political process is so widely accepted as to be almost a cliche. And often this belief is buttressed by the disclosures that lobby groups must make. Yet when it comes to the hot-button state political issue of redistricting, the process appears driven not by outside special interests but an inside one: the Legislature itself. Bills to redraw voting boundaries for state legislative districts, congressional districts and municipalities—allegedly in ways skewed to benefit Republicans—were introduced last July 11. The bills promptly passed the GOP-controlled Legislature and were signed into law by…

National Resonation

One liberal activist has accused Scott Walker—who’s raised much of his money for a likely recall election from out of state—of “traveling across America selling out Wisconsin to the highest bidder.” A Walker campaign spokeswoman put it differently, saying the Republican governor’s “reforms have resonated with voters all around the country.” Dick Uihlein is in a position to help sort things out—and, happily, is willing to do so. In November, Uihlein and his wife Elizabeth gave $100,000 each to Walker’s campaign, taking advantage of a glitch in state law that suspends the usual contribution limits, which for governor’s race are…

Let the Money Flow

It’s difficult to write about the levels of money now being pumped into Wisconsin’s electoral process without using terms like “jaw-dropping” and “eye-popping.” It’s a wonder we can still recognize ourselves in the mirror, with all these contortions. Take the recent filings from state campaigns preparing for recalls. They show that Gov. Scott Walker raised nearly $4.6 million in campaign cash in just the five-week period between Dec. 11 and Jan. 17, the date recall petitions against him were turned in. This is on top of the $7.6 million Walker previously reported raising between Jan. 3, 2011, the day he…

Follow the Money

Any candidate seeking contributions will tell you: No amount is too small to make a difference. But the more you give, individually or collectively, the more of a difference you can make. That’s why it makes sense to study contributions in search of larger patterns. MapLight, a national nonpartisan research organization, recently launched a new feature that tracks campaign contributions by company for the U.S. Congress and two state legislatures, in California and Wisconsin. For the Wisconsin data, go to www.maplight.org/wisconsin and click on the folder for “Companies” — a category broad enough to include interest groups like unions and…

Mining For Answers

Mark Radcliffe (at left) is an attorney in private practice in Black River Falls. He represents High Country Sand, a Minnesota-based mining company, in a lawsuit filed Jan. 3 against Eau Claire County, challenging its temporary moratorium on non-metallic mining. Radcliffe is also a Democratic member of the state Assembly, which may soon take up a bill to revamp Wisconsin’s rules for metallic mining. While awaiting the final version before deciding what to do, he sees no reason not to vote, because it deals with a different kind of mining. “People can’t throw all sorts of mining in the same…