By Bill Lueders and Kate Golden
Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism
In the aftermath of the Nov. 6 elections, words like “fickle” and “schizophrenic” are being bandied about to describe the Wisconsin electorate.
How else can anyone explain a group of voters who simultaneously picked Democrats Barack Obama for president and Tammy Baldwin for U.S. Senate while preserving a 5-3 Republican edge in its congressional delegation and giving the GOP a commanding majority in both houses of the state Legislature?
Government entities can't charge the public for time spent deleting confidential information from records, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
The decision marks a major victory for open government advocates and the media amid an intense debate over whether taxpayers or requesters should foot the bill for redaction costs, which can sometimes stretch into the hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Read the rest of the story at the LaCrosse Tribune.
Gov. Scott Walker survived his recall election. The same cannot be said for the integrity of campaign finance laws in Wisconsin.
Incumbents targeted for recall are freed from Wisconsin's normal fundraising limits, and can collect unlimited contributions from individual donors. With the election between Walker and his Democratic opponent, former Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, seen as a battleground for national partisan politics, money poured in on both sides. But Walker exploited the seemingly infinite loophole to tremendous advantage: By election day, Walker's campaign had received more than $30 million in donations, a total that approached the $37.5 million spent by both sides during the 2010 election, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
Wisconsin received a grade of 'C-' from the State Integrity Investigation for its political financing laws and practices, with reporter Kate Golden finding proper measures on limits, enforcement, and transparency, while also documenting numerous exemptions and back-channels, including the recall election loophole. But in other states, the potentially polluting influence of unlimited, and sometimes unsupervised campaign financing is constant and permanent, borne out of state laws and practices -- or their absence.
Nearly $1 million and counting. That's the cost to Wisconsin taxpayers for legal bills racked up defending new election maps. What's done is done.
But moving forward, Wisconsin should avoid wasting money in court on political spats over rigged maps. Instead, the Legislature should assign to a neutral body — such as the Legislative Reference Bureau, Government Accountability Board or a citizen panel — the once-every-decade task of revising state Assembly, Senate and congressional voting districts to reflect population changes after each major census.
Read the rest of the story at the Wisconsin State Journal.
Money is flowing into Wisconsin at unprecedented rates, with nearly $62 million spent thus far in the gubernatorial recall race, a nonpartisan campaign finance watchdog group reported Thursday. Republican Gov. Scott Walker has spent more than Democratic opponent Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and special-interest groups combined, with $29.3 million of his $30.5 million war chest spent thus far.
Outside interest groups reported spending $21.5 million on the race and so-called issue ad groups that do not disclose their spending have dumped at least another $7.5 million into the election.
Read the rest of the story at Hudson Patch.
State integrity news for Wisonsin, from the Green Bay Press-Gazette:
The Wisconsin Judicial Commission is expected to decide Friday in Madison whether to take action against Dane County Judge David Flanagan and 28 other circuit court judges who signed petitions to recall Gov. Scott Walker.
But because judicial discipline in Wisconsin is highly secretive, the public may never know whether the judges are investigated and what results from any investigation, said Jim Alexander, the commission’s executive director. The commission can release information in some cases but is under no obligation to do so.
Read the rest of the story at the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
Gov. Scott Walker had to give $170,000 back to the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce after the business group improperly passed the money on to him. MMAC's political action committee was fined $500 for the infraction in February.
The Republican governor has been raising large sums in recent months because the normal limits on campaign donations do not apply from the time recall petitions are circulated until the accountability board orders a recall election to be held. That has allowed Walker to accept as much as $500,000 from one donor -- 50 times the normal limit of $10,000.
Read the rest of the story at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
By Kate Golden
Gary Goyke probably should have known better.
A former lawmaker turned career lobbyist, Goyke (pictured, right) was convicted in 1990 on four felony counts of illegal campaign contributions. But in 2009 he ran afoul of campaign finance rules once again, paying a $6,449 fine for exceeding the $10,000 annual individual limit on contributions to all Wisconsin campaigns.
“He’s been around for like 30 years. How could he have not known there was a limit?” asked Mike Buelow, research director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan campaign finance advocacy group.
A sharply divided Wisconsin Supreme Court voted Monday to end its longstanding practice of discussing court administrative matters in open conference. The state Supreme Court in 1999 became what was believed to be the first court in the nation to open its discussions of administrative matters to the public.
The change was backed at the time by Justice Patrick Crooks, who said Monday that closing these meetings would be "a major step backward" and "a terrible thing" for the court to do. "I think it's vitally important that the public be able to see what we do and how we do it," Crooks said. "This would be a major mistake, to close what has been open."
Read the rest of the story at the Appleton Post-Crescent.
As legislative leaders secretly developed new election maps last year to strengthen their majority, Republican lawmakers were told to ignore public comments and instead focus on what was said in private strategy sessions, according to a GOP memo that became public Monday.Other newly released documents also show almost all Republican lawmakers signed legal agreements promising not to discuss the new maps while they were being developed.
GOP lawmakers fought releasing these new documents and testifying about the maps in a pending court case but relented after a panel of three federal judges based in Milwaukee last month found they had filed frivolous motions in trying to shield the information from the public.
Read the rest of the story at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.