Friday, February 03, 2006

It's Time for Public Financing

Scott Jensen's defense tactic seems to have opened a large can of worms. The Journal-Sentinel reports this morning that two former prominent Wisconsin state legislators--David Prosser and Joseph Strohl--plan to testify on Jensen's behalf that campaigning on state time, which apparently included collecting campaign donations in state offices, was widespread since at least the late-1970s.

The JS article largely focuses on whether this is a sound defense for Jensen, but the larger point here is that some state legislators seem to have widely broke the law and simultaneously flipped-off the public trust for over two decades. Stuffing campaign envelopes on state time doesn't really bother me too much, although I think it should stop--but the collection of donations in Capitol offices while legislation tied to those donations is pending is nearly as bad as it gets in terms of abusing the public trust.

Two key quotes from the JS article:
  1. "Strohl is a Racine Democrat who served as Senate majority leader from 1986 to 1990. He said that he would tell jurors that lawmakers routinely solicited campaign cash in their Capitol offices."
  2. "[Strohl] said lawmakers did not accept checks in their offices and did not discuss donations in connection with bills pending before the Legislature, which would have been a clear violation of the state's pay-to-play statute."
In other words, checks are bad, but soliciting cash is cool. Plus, just for good measure, don't talk about the donations and their connection to pending bills--that almost makes it seem like a connection really doesn't exist, right? See no traceable evil, hear no evil.

Then there's this gem: "Jensen wants Prosser, Strohl and other former legislative leaders to testify that campaigning on state time was widespread, in an effort to show that Jensen did not believe such practices were illegal."

So, let's get this straight. They new it was wrong enough not to accept checks or talk about getting the donations, but they didn't seem to think it was wrong enough to not solicit cash donations and not talk about it while legislation was pending.

If there ever was a strong argument for public financing of Wisconsin state campaigns, this is it. I would think we could expect those who make the law to know the law, but evidently that's asking too much.

If Wisconsin state legislators can't handle pushing their agenda while abiding by the very laws they make, then maybe it's time to start funding campaigns evenly and without the necessity of solicitations. As long as private campaign donations are required to push a party's agenda in Wisconsin, the question remains--whose agenda is being pushed?

Side Note: Former Democratic legislators Chuck Chvala and Brian Burke are currently serving sentences for directing aides to campaign on state time. Does Jensen's defense mean he supports overturning those convictions? Just asking.


Blogger Julie said...

I remember arguing in front of a judge that since I didn't know the posted speed limit and hence went over it, I wasn't really guilty of speeding.

I paid a $75.00 fine (this was a lot of years ago) and received a lecture from his honor about how ignorance of the law is no excuse.

I hope the judge presiding over Jensen's case gives him the same lecture, but NOT the same fine.

February 03, 2006  
Blogger Seth Zlotocha said...

Good call, Julie.

And, actually, Jensen's defense is worse than the one you put up. After all, you're not one of the people who sets the speed limits for the state while Jensen is one of the state's lawmakers.

Could you imagine the way that judge would've lectured you if you were one of those charged with setting the very speed limits you ignored?

February 03, 2006  

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