Friday, September 29, 2006

Health Care Studies are Good, but It's Time to Act

The Journal Sentinel is offering another article today on the especially high cost of health care in the Milwaukee area. This one focuses on physician fees, whereas others have focused on hospital fees.

Here's a snippet from the story:


Bruce Kruger, executive vice president of the Medical Society of Milwaukee County, praised the Greater Milwaukee Business Foundation on Health for its initiative and its efforts to systematically evaluate health care costs in the Milwaukee area.

"The foundation has tried to use the most objective analysis as possible," Kruger said.

He and others said the next step is to understand what contributes to higher costs in the Milwaukee area and to find ways to improve quality and lower costs.

That will require hospitals, doctor, health plans and employers to work together.

"They all want to work on the problem and solve it," said Jim Wrocklage, executive director of the Greater Milwaukee Business Foundation on Health.


This story has the same ring to it as the others -- "Hey, this study says there's a problem here. We're going to do something about it."

Of course, these articles are all well and good, as are the studies that are reported in them, but the time for identifying whether a health care problem exists is long over.

Most of the country is at the point of crisis when it comes to health care. And while Wisconsin has weathered the storm better than most states because of our terrific social service programs (which are now in financial jeopardy due to our do-nothing Republican-led Congress), our state has not completely avoided the problems and it faces more serious issues if action isn't taken soon.

Right now there are three proposals (here, here, and here) for comprehensive statewide reform before the GOP-led state legislature. Two of the three have some bipartisan support, although none have the support of the Republican leadership, which is the real key to getting something done at this time.

So if health care and business leaders in Milwaukee really want to "solve" the health care issue they continuously study, they'll use what's already on the table to push the state GOP to do something about it.

The JS Sells Its Readers Short

Next week the State Elections Board (SEB) is going to be considering another action against Mark Green. This time they're going to be considering whether to ask Green to divest all but $43,128 of the $1.3 million he donated from his federal campaign account to his state campaign account.

Do the readers of the Journal Sentinel -- the biggest daily in the state -- even know what that action is based upon?

A look at the two articles published in the JS that mention the SEB meeting next week suggests that, unless they heard about it elsewhere, they don't have the slightest idea.

The first article to note the meeting ran on Tuesday. It says absolutely nothing about what the SEB action is based upon, only noting that the motion was brought by a Democratic appointee to the board, Robert Kasieta.

The second article is running today, and it too says absolutely nothing about what's prompting the SEB consideration of the matter next week.

We could even toss in a third article that ran yesterday. This article discusses the Federal Election Commission (FEC) complaint filed by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign on the exact same issue that the SEB will be discussing next week. Not only did the JS fail to tell readers in that article the connection between the FEC complaint and the SEB meeting, it also didn't provide any discussion of the legal basis for either action.

So that makes three chances the JS had to fill its readers in on the fundamental legal arguments behind two identical actions brought against Green's campaign within a week, and the biggest daily in the state decided to pass on all of them.

I've written about the legal basis for the actions here, here, and here, so I won't get into it again in this post.

It's understandable that the state GOP would want to avoid specifics on the matter; after all, Green hardly has a legal leg to stand on regarding the complaints.

But the avoidance of those details by the JS -- which many rely on for accurate and complete information -- is inexcusable.

Side Note: For an excellent dressing down of the bias JS gubernatorial election coverage, check out these two posts (here and here) by attorney Mike Plaisted.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Green Team Saw BCRA Amendment As "Advantage"

Tucked away in a giant 3,300-page appropriations bill in late November 2004 was a provision that is now at the heart of the complaint filed by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign against Mark Green's gubernatorial campaign yesterday.

The provision amended the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) by adding two permissible uses for federal campaign account funds:
  1. "for donations to State and local candidates subject to the provisions of State law"
  2. "for any other lawful purpose unless prohibited by subsection (b) of this section"
At the time, the provision was heralded by many as an opening for federal politicians to move funds from their federal campaign account to a state campaign account. The original BCRA (also known as McCain-Feingold) didn't allow federal campaign funds to be used in this way.

One of the people doing the heralding was Congressman Mark Green's chief of staff -- who now serves as his state campaign manager -- Mark Graul.

Shortly after the bill was passed, Graul told Spivak and Bice in a December 1, 2004 column: "[The provision] shows the many advantages that Mark will have if he chooses to run for governor. This is just one."

So the Green Team was quite aware of the BCRA amendment less than two months before it took $1.3 million from Green's federal campaign fund and moved it into his newly created state campaign fund.

What's still in question is why the Green Team interpreted that amendment in the way that it did. As the provision clearly states, donations from federal to state campaign accounts are "subject to the provisions of State law."

And this is where semantics enters into the equation.

In his appeal of the state Elections Board decision last week, Green argued that the movement of funds was a "conversion" rather than a "donation," and therefore fell under the second allowable usage for federal campaign funds in the BCRA amendment: "for any other lawful purpose unless prohibited by subsection (b) of this section."

But Judge Niess soundly rejected this reading of the BCRA amendment (emphasis mine):


The problem with this argument is that subsection (6), both by its own terms and by basic rules of statutory construction, does not apply if the transfer of funds is governed by subsection (5). "[A]ny other lawful purpose" in subsection (6) means any lawful purpose other than those already addressed in the statute. As the Court has found, the transfer of funds at issue here is unquestionably a "donation" to a state candidate and therefore already specifically addressed in subsection (5). It is axiomatic that where two statutes potentially dealing with the same subject matter could lead to different results, the more specific statute controls. Mayer v. Mayer, 91 Wis. 2d 342, 350, 283 N.W. 2d 591 (1979).


Thus, if the move was indeed a "donation," it falls under the provision of state law that pertains to contributions to a state campaign fund. This provision, found in Chapter 11.01 of the Wisconsin Statutes, states that a "contribution" refers in state campaign finance law to "a gift, subscription, loan, advance, or deposit of money or anything of value...made for political purposes" (emphasis mine).

In spite of this clear language of what a "contribution" means in Wisconsin law, Green saw another opening to argue over semantics, claiming that "donation" in the BCRA amendment is not the same as a "contribution" in Chapter 11.01 of the Wisconsin Statutes.

Again, Judge Niess easily dismissed this argument:


Reference any dictionary or thesaurus for the words "gift," "donation," and "contribution," and it is exceedingly difficult to find a definition or synonym for one that does not incorporate explicit references to the others. Certainly, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has used the terms "contribution" and "donation" interchangeably. [...]

Even if one accepts Green's argument that there is a reasonable construction of "contribution" under Chapter 11 that would not include a "donation" under 2 U.S.C. §439a(a)(5) (which the Court does not), at best this would only create an ambiguity in the definition of "contribution," that is, competing reasonable interpretations. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has repeatedly admonished that courts are to resolve ambiguities in the meaning of a statute so as to advance the Legislature's basic purpose in enacting the statute.


Resolving any ambiguity in the definition of "contribution" in the manner urged by Green frustrates the legislative purpose in enacting Chapter 11 and thus cannot be countenanced.


So we're left to guess about why Graul viewed the BCRA amendment as an "advantage" to Green's looming gubernatorial bid back in December 2004. Something tells me inattention to detail is an unlikely answer.

But what we know for sure is that the Green Team was very much aware of the amendment when it moved $1.3 million into a newly created state campaign account in January 2005, regardless of the supposed "inconsistent" advice it received from the state Elections Board on the matter.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Did Bush Bother to Read the NIE?

The national news is focusing in on a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the war on terrorism that pits the Iraq War as a major instigator, as opposed to deterrent, of the global jihadist movement.

The political damage of this report for the Republican Party is clear. The White House has been leading a last ditch effort by the GOP to get the public's mind off the Iraq War and onto the broader war on terrorism. This report indelibly connects the two, and not in the way the Bush Administration has tried to connect them over the years.

Rather than say the Iraq War has aided the war on terror by simply creating a centralized front to fight the jihadists, as the White House has claimed the war does, the recently leaked NIE makes it very clear that the Iraq War has served to actively fuel terrorist activities around the world.

Sensing the damage the report was having on its election year strategy, the White House began to claim that things aren't as bad as the leaked portions of the NIE made them appear.

According to a statement from National Intelligence Director John Negroponte released earlier in the week, "the conclusions of the intelligence community are designed to be comprehensive, and viewing them through the narrow prism of a fraction of judgments distorts the broad framework they create."

Gathering that the media wasn't buying the White House spin, Bush made the somewhat surprising decision yesterday to de-classify "key judgments" from the NIE so that "everybody can draw their own conclusions about what the report says."

Four pages of the NIE were released late yesterday, and here's the assessment of them by the LA Times: "[The] release of its principal findings appeared likely to fuel the election-season debate over the impact of the war in Iraq, and provided scant support for the president's position that the U.S. occupation of the country has made America safer."

According to a key conclusion stated in the released pages: "We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives."

And there's also this: "The Iraq conflict has become the 'cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement."

The pre-September 11 Bush's unwillingness to read most intelligence reports to cross his desk is widely known. You'd think he would've learned his lesson, especially for those reports he intends to de-classify.

What's most eye-opening is that these four pages were supposed to include the aspects of the NIE that were most favorable to the White House's position. It makes you wonder what the rest of the report says.

To be fair, there are aspects of the released portion of the NIE that suggest leaving Iraq before securing "victory" would similarly fuel terrorist aspirations around the world.

But that's really the crux of the predicament that Bush has placed the country in with Iraq.

Staying the course breads terrorism, as does leaving an unstable Iraq. Considering there is no clear plan from anyone on how to secure true "victory" in Iraq, at least in any reasonable amount of time, it's really a lose-lose situation.

Perhaps the answer comes down to picking the lesser of two evils. Would it fuel terrorism more to have more of the same -- which is the GOP position -- or would it fuel it more to cut the existing losses (exactly when is up for debate) and re-focus anti-terrorism activities elsewhere, which is the Dem position?

However that debate unfolds, it's clear this NIE release doesn't do the GOP's election strategy -- which was to avoid any debate at all on Iraq -- any favors.

UPDATE: Word came out yesterday that there's another NIE that focuses specifically on Iraq. Insiders who have seen the report have called its assessment of the Iraq War "very bleak."

Think Progress is reporting that in a conference call with reporters last night, the White House said this report would be de-classified, as soon as the elections are over in January 2007.

ANOTHER UPDATE: It appears the Iraqi people have decided which route they want the US to go. According to a survey by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, 71 percent of Iraqis want US troops out of Iraq within the year, and another 20 percent want them out within two years.

Only 9 percent want the US to stay until "the security situation improves," mostly because Iraqis seem to feel the US presence in Iraq is causing more problems than it's solving.

As the report notes, "An overwhelming majority [of Iraqis believe] that the US military presence in Iraq is provoking more conflict than it is preventing. More broadly, most feel the US is having a predominantly negative influence in Iraq and have little or no confidence in the US military. If the US made a commitment to withdraw, a majority believes that this would strengthen the Iraqi government."

Here's a chart on what the Iraqis feel the effect of a US withdrawal would be:

You can read the full report here. It's eye-opening, to say the least.

The JS Draws the Line on the Green Team

In case you're wondering where the line was drawn, it's on page 2 of the Metro section, eight paragraphs down.

Read carefully, otherwise you might miss it.

As Xoff pointed out the other day, Congressman Green's latest campaign ad says the following: "The Journal Sentinel reports Doyle rigged the State Elections Board vote to try and steal the election."

Here's what the JS had to say about that this morning:


The Journal Sentinel article Green's ad cites as evidence that Doyle "rigged" an Elections Board vote was an editorial, not a news story, and it never made that accusation. The editorial faulted the Elections Board, Doyle's campaign and the Legislature for contacts a Doyle campaign lawyer made with Democratic appointees on the Elections Board.


By the end of the article the JS was back to form, though, citing two UWM professors, one who liked Green's ad and another who didn't like a part of an anti-Green ad produced by the Greater Wisconsin Committee.

I'm sure displaying a dash of integrity in its gubernatorial election coverage was fun while it lasted for the JS news staff.

UPDATE: The JS editorial board takes issue with Green's ad today: "Green Ad Steps Over the Line."

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Mark Green Broke the Law He Voted On

Yesterday I wrote, somewhat facetiously: "I' 5 to 1 odds that tomorrow's Journal Sentinel article on the decision will focus on the subsequent appeal should the ruling go against Green... ."

If you would've taken that bet, you would've lost.

Here's the headline on the front page of the JS today: "Green Plans Appeal."

What's most disturbing about this title is that it's part and parcel of an attempt to take emphasis off the heart of the matter, akin to the GOP's incessant focus on the activities of Michael Maistelman.

The purpose of the GOP's focus on Maistelman is clear -- there's no way to defend Green's actions using the law, so Republicans are opting to cloud the situation using conspiracy theories about the alleged impact of someone else's actions in an attempt to divert attention from what Green did.

Mark Green's own response to the ruling yesterday highlights this ploy: "Today's ruling did not give us more clarity."

This statement couldn't be further from the truth.

Judge Niess' ruling yesterday very clearly focuses in on the fact that Green's conversion of money from his federal account to his state account broke the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) passed in 2002 and updated in 2004, along with campaign finance laws in Wisconsin that limit campaign contributions to state accounts to $43,000 and change.

The legalities of the matter are very simple.

In 2002, the US Congress passed and President Bush signed the BCRA, which prescribes four specific allowable uses for federal campaign funds: 1) in a federal campaign, 2) toward the duties of holding federal office, 3) as contributions to approved organizations, 4) for transfer to a national, state, or local political party.

Once the BCRA became law in 2002, any conversion of money from a federal to a state campaign account was not allowed under federal law.

But in late 2004, Congress amended the BCRA to allow another usage for federal campaign funds -- "for donations to State and local candidates subject to the provisions of State law." This amendment went into effect on December 8, 2004.

According to Wisconsin state law, a donation to a state campaign fund cannot exceed $43,128, which means any donation of funds from a federal account to a state account is limited to this amount.

Therefore, Green's donation of $1.3 million from his federal account to his state account on January 25, 2005, clearly broke the regulation in the BCRA that the donation must abide by "the provisions of State law" because state law clearly states that no donations above and beyond $43,128 are allowed.

It just doesn't get any clearer than that.

As Judge Niess explained in his ruling (emphasis mine):


In short, a “donation” a "contribution" subject to the limitations and other regulations contained in Chapter 11 of the Wisconsin statutes governing the use of money in Wisconsin political campaigns. Thus, even if the Court were to adopt Green's argument that the Elections Board should be enjoined from enforcing its Emergency Rule and Order because they are illegal for any number of reasons -- arguments which raise some serious and legitimate questions -- Green still cannot succeed on the ultimate merits of this case because the Court cannot grant the requested declaratory judgment finding "that funds a state campaign committee has on hand when it converts from federal registration are not counted against Wisconsin's contribution limits." ... Controlling federal law, through its incorporation of Wisconsin's campaign finance law, in fact compels the opposite finding.


And Mark Graul's claim yesterday that the Green campaign must have received "innaccurate information" on the law is ridiculous.

To be sure, Mark Green voted on both the BCRA in 2002 and the amendment to it in 2004. So unless he's going to come out and say that he didn't understand what he was voting on as a congressman, then his campaign needs to drop the "I didn't know" charade.

This matter is not about what an election attorney did, nor is it about Mark Green's desperate appeal to a higher court.

This is about the illegal actions taken by the Green campaign when it violated the very law Congressman Green voted on by donating $1.3 million in funds from a federal campaign account to a state campaign account.

UPDATE: Xoff offers more on how badly the JS missed the mark with its article this morning.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Big Decision Today, Even Bigger Reactions - UPDATE

UPDATE: Judge Niess upheld the Elections Board decision against Green. Expect the reaction discussed below to start within the hour.

UPDATED UPDATE: Green Team responds that they will set aside the $467,844 in illegal PAC money for now, blames decision on "inaccurate information" and, predictably, an orchestrated "attack" by Governor Doyle.

UPDATED UPDATED UPDATE: After skimming the ruling by Niess, it seems he not only agrees that the EB decision on illegal PAC money was correct, he also agrees with the DOJ that all $1.3 million converted from Green's federal account to his state account is a "contribution," and thereby limited by state campaign finance laws that restrict such contributions to no more than $43,128.

In other words, Green really should be giving up much more than $460K.


(Originally posted at 7:55am.)

Most politicos are surely awaiting the decision that's expected today from Judge Richard Niess on the issue of Mark Green's illegal PAC money.

But even more interesting than the decision will be the reaction to it.

I'm sure the GOP has pre-printed press releases ready to run should the decision go against Green, brimming over the top with talk about "Democrat judges" in "liberal Dane County" and the inherent bias of the Doyle-appointed Judge Niess.

I'm also giving 5 to 1 odds that tomorrow's Journal Sentinel article on the decision will focus on the subsequent appeal should the ruling go against Green -- and I wouldn't even put it past the news editors to run the story in the Metro section.

But if the ruling goes in Green's favor, there won't even be enough room for another article above the fold on the Main section.

Green Ditches WI League of Conservation Voters

It's probably no surprise that Governor Doyle won the endorsement of the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters (WLCV) today.

The mission of the WLCV is "electing conservation leaders to the state legislature and encouraging lawmakers to champion conservation policies that effectively protect Wisconsin's public health and natural resources."

Concern for the environment isn't exactly the GOP's forte, particularly since Bush took office.

But how Green treated the WLCV during its endorsement process is notable.

In order to decide who to endorse, the WLCV sends questionnaires to candidates, asks that they participate in an interview, and also undertakes an examination of their past voting record.

Mark Green promised to return the questionnaire and participate in an interview, but rather than living up to his word, he never followed through on that promise.

According to the WLCV, "Despite several promises, Congressman Mark Green never returned the questionnaire or agreed to a time for the candidate interview."

Similarly, over the summer, Green never bothered to return an ethics questionnaire from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Common Cause, and the League of Women Voters.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

AP Breaks Another Story Ahead of JS

In his column this week, Bruce Murphy wrote the following:


Last week, the Associated Press did a story showing that Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Green received more than $100,000 in donations from the real estate industry after he announced a housing plan the industry favored. This is just the sort of connection between donations and government policy that Gov. Jim Doyle has been accused of in numerous front-page Journal Sentinel stories.

The Journal Sentinel assigned two reporters to the story and ran a notably smaller article than the AP version, burying it at the bottom of page five of the second section. The story was given about the same prominence as the one on Washington County’s momentous decision to build an outdoor firearms range.

It’s possible the paper gave the story less prominence because the AP got the scoop first. But why did the AP’s much smaller staff score first? Perhaps because the JS continues to show much more interest in looking at Doyle’s connections to campaign donations.


Well, it looks like the AP beat the JS to another story. And this time the JS didn't even bother assigning its own writers to the story, it just allowed the AP to cover it alone.

The story notes how Republican Party of Wisconsin (RPW) head Rick Wiley had a phone conversation with a GOP member of the Elections Board one day prior to its vote requiring Mark Green's campaign to divest itself of $460K in illegal PAC money.

The story is running on the front-page of the Metro section (I haven't seen the position of it in the print version, yet), under the title "GOP Leader Also Contacted Board: No Strategy Discussed in Brief Call, Wiley Says." A far cry from the spread on the front-page of the main section granted to the Maistelman story last week.

The GOP will surely poo-poo the story, as Wiley already is, claiming it's just not the same as what Maistelman did.

But whether or not Wiley went to the lengths of Maistelman, it's still notable that the AP had to break this story, while the JS was all over the Maistelman story with a vengeance.

It's amazing conservatives around Milwaukee can still say "liberal media bias" with a straight face.

And I'm sure DA Bucher is filing paperwork for an investigation into Wiley's actions as we speak.

UPDATE: Xoff has more on the story -- turns out the print edition of the JS didn't even run the second half of the Wiley story after the jump. Oops...or as expected?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Thompson Heads to Prison...Alone

This is really no surprise. The defense was hoping for probation, but that was highly unlikely considering the press surrounding the case. The prosecution recommended 2 years, and Thompson got 18 months.

What will likely go unreported in all of this is the fact that Thompson still didn't roll over on anyone else. While that fact doesn't surprise me, it should surprise those who still subscribe to the theory that Thompson was in cahoots with her superiors, including all the way up the ladder to Governor Doyle.

When the case went to trial back in June, legal experts took that as a sign that Thompson was working alone. If there was someone to pin this on, they said, Thompson would've done it before trial.

According to UW-Madison law professor Frank Tuerkheimer: "The fact is, the sentences are so tough in the federal system, the best way to get any sort of a break on the sentence is to plead guilty and cooperate. Very few defendants are willing to roll the dice. Even some with very excellent defenses are just not willing to take a chance, because trials are kind of random."

At the time, though, some GOPers still held out hope that Thompson was just a risk taker, willing to roll the dice in court.

As we all know now, Thompson lost her case. Then she almost immediately lost her job. Considering it was supposedly "job security" that made her rig the bidding process (an amazing charge considering the high level of job security that's inherent in the state's civil service system), the loss of her job meant that she really had nothing to gain from staying quiet anymore.

But, yet, she stayed quiet.

Now she has been given prison time -- and she still hasn't named anyone!

Some die hard GOPers will probably argue that Thompson could've tried to plea down her sentence, but Biskupic just wouldn't budge, but that line of thinking is completely ludicrous. If Biskupic had a chance at a bigger fish, particularly getting close to Doyle, he would've given Thompson probation in a heartbeat.

Getting a big fish is what most federal prosecutions are all about -- the fact that this one appears to be starting and stopping with Thompson means that the prosecution didn't have the case they thought they had at the start.

Since Thompson has absolutely nothing to gain from staying quiet, and very much to gain from speaking out, why is she choosing silence?

Could it be that there's just nothing to say?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Hear All that Noise from the GOP Today?

It's an attempt to drown out stories like this: "Justice Department: Green Transfer Illegal."

The Journal Sentinel is giving the headline some significant play on its website this afternoon. It remains to be seen whether it gets the same front-page love that the Maistelman story got today.

Here are a few important snippets from the DOJ brief:
  • "Green places great emphasis on past actions and opinions of the Board, ascribing to such actions and decisions a precedential or stare decisis status this it implores the Court to adopt. Not only is such reliance on previous Board actions and opinions misplaced, it is largely irrelevant to the legal issues of the current dispute, given the substantial changes in federal and state law regarding campaign financing that have been enacted over the past four years" (page 3).
  • "In late 2004...Congress amended [the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA)] by adding two additional allowed uses of federal campaign funds. The fifth provision allowed the use of such funds 'for donations to State and local candidates subject to the provisions of State law.' ... This allowed federal campaign committees to move funds to state campaign committees, but only in the form of 'donations,' and such donations were required to be made in conformance with state law. ... In Wisconsin, a committee is limited by statute to only contributing certain amounts to state or local campaigns. For Governor, for example, a committee may contribute no more than $43,128.00. ... Therefore, following the 2004 amendments to BCRA, a federal campaign committee was limited to contributing no more than $43,128.00 to any candidate for Governor in Wisconsin during an election cycle" (pages 6-7).
  • "Green's claims of being damaged by the Board's actions are curious, given that, as noted above, Green should only have been allowed to receive a one-time donation from Congressman Green's federal campaign fund in the amount of $43,128.00, pursuant to federal and state law, with the remainder of the $1.3 million remaining in the federal campaign account. The Board, however, has to date only directed Green to return approximately $500,000 of the roughly $1.3 million that was illegally converted to Green for Wisconsin" (page 10).
So you can add the Wisconsin DOJ to the list of groups and people who think the use of unregistered PAC money by Congressman Green in a state election is illegal. And, not only that, the DOJ thinks Green should need to divest much more than just the illegal PAC money.

But out of all of those who feel Green acted illegally, the GOP will do its best over the next few weeks to focus attention on three of the people, while conveniently ignoring (or drowning out) the rest.

UPDATE: Looks like we'll have a ruling from the Dane County judge on Monday, but not the final ruling on the case as a whole. According to WisPolitics, "[Judge] Niess said he was trying to expedite the case because he doesn't expect to have the final word in the matter."

Doyle Campaign Turns Asset into Liability

The Journal Sentinel is leading with a story today that a Doyle attorney contacted three Democratic members of the Elections Board before the vote against Congressman Green on the question of his campaign's unregistered PAC money.

It's sure to be the top GOP talking point in the weeks to come, thereby helping to shape the public's perception of the impending trial.

Of course, there are still important points that undercut this new charge:
  • The facts of the case are unchanged -- Green still spent unregistered PAC money in a state election
  • There is still no evidence that the contact from the Doyle attorney in any way impacted the actual vote of the three Dem board members
  • There is still no good explanation from the GOP about why the Libertarian board member voted against Green
  • What Doyle's lawyer did was completely legal
But, unfortunately for Doyle, none of that really matters, at least in the short term.

What matters is that the Doyle camp took an issue that was a liability for the Green camp, neutralized it at best and actually made it a liability for itself at worst.

The special interests who gave money to Green's congressional campaign do not need to abide by Wisconsin campaign finance laws, nor do they have any actual interest in Wisconsin issues. Yet, Green was trying to use this money to get elected to run the state of Wisconsin.

The non-partisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign (WDC) filed suit against the Green campaign for what it saw as illegal activity. Five members of the state Elections Board, including the one Libertarian member, agreed with the WDC. The only members of the board to disagree were Republicans.

Green chose to fight the action in court rather than give up the cash. At this point, in reality and in the public mindset, the battle was between Congressman Green and the State of Wisconsin, in spite of the fact that the GOP was trying desperately to make it an issue of Doyle attacking Green.

With the release of today's story, though, the Doyle camp fell ass-backwards into the GOP's spin. Now there's direct evidence that this issue isn't just about Green and the State of Wisconsin. And regardless of all the important points raised above, in the public mindset, this issue just became a matter of election year politics rather than simply a matter of law.

Why did the Doyle camp even hire an attorney for this matter? Its response to that question in the JS article was that Green hired a lawyer, so it did, too.


Of course Green hired a lawyer -- he was being brought up on ethics charges!

The Doyle campaign had no business getting involved, whether or not its involvement actually impacted the outcome of the case. It should've just let the issue stand as a fight between Congressman Green and the State of Wisconsin.


Side Note: Gretchen Schuldt raises a good point about the location of the JS article discussed above and another article from today that details how unregistered PAC money isn't the only illegal campaign cash held by the Green Team.

LATE UPDATE: Hear all that noise from the GOP today? It's to drown out stories like this one: "Justice Department: Green Transfer Illegal." I write more about the DOJ brief here.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Fixing the Fix

Chris Cillizza at "The Fix," a Washington Post-based blog, just released his most recent gubernatorial race election rankings, and back into the Top 10 by popular demand is the Wisconsin race.

Cillizza ranks races based upon the likelihood that the office in question will change party hands this November.

According to his rankings this week, Wisconsin dropped from 11th to 9th because after the last ranking, "we heard quite a bit of grumbling from Republicans who insist that Gov. Jim Doyle (D) is far from out of the woods."

This move highlights a GOP strategy to increase the number of votes against Doyle by hyping the perception that his re-election bid is on the ropes. After all, voters are more likely to show up and pull the lever against an incumbent who's said to be in trouble than they are one who is solidly in the lead.

And while the Fix rankings are mostly symbolic, they do provide ammunition for needy campaigns. For instance, when the Wisconsin gubernatorial race was ranked 5th by Cillizza back in April, the Green Team jumped all over it, jubilantly
announcing: "Jim Doyle recently earned a top distinction – being the most vulnerable incumbent governor in the nation, according to blogger Chris Cillizza."

It's somewhat surprising that Cillizza, who makes a living off analyzing political moves, would not only fail to recognize (or at least acknowledge) this blatant political move, but also go ahead and adjust his rankings in spite of there being no actual evidence to justify the adjustment.

In fact, the actual evidence points the opposite way, which led Cillizza to qualify the new ranking with this: "Recent polling suggests, however, that Doyle is weathering the storm. He had a 9-point lead in a recent independent poll and, as importantly, 51 percent felt favorably toward him compared with 37 percent who felt unfavorably."

In the end, the rankings will mean little if anything for the outcome of the race. But it does highlight a GOP in Wisconsin that's desperate to take (and make) any good news it can get.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Mark Green: Putting Uninsured Wisconsin Kids Last

Last month I wondered whether Mark Green would support Governor Doyle's plan to expand the BadgerCare program in Wisconsin.

I figured there was a chance the answer would be "yes." After all, the proposal will widen access to health care for the 91,000 Wisconsin children who currently lack it, and it would also combine the family Medicaid, BadgerCare, and Healthy Start programs in order to reduce administrative costs for the state by $20 million per year.

Here's how GOP State Senator Carol Roessler (R-Oshkosh) described the plan: "What is being proposed here is collapsing pools of money to make them go a better distance, help more people and make a more effective delivery system."

But when the Journal Sentinel asked Congressman Green about expanding the program, his response was as vague as it was ideologically-driven: "[R]ather than expanding government-run health care as Jim Doyle has proposed, I believe we should look for ways to make health care more affordable in the private sector."

So Congressman Green, if elected governor, would scrap a well-developed proposal that has bipartisan legislative support in order to "look for ways" through the private sector to provide health care to over 90,000 Wisconsin kids who currently lack it.

And Congressman Green is so ideological that he opposes the plan simply because it would be orchestrated by the state, which, ironically, he wants to be elected to run.

Of course, Green didn't offer any ideas for how the ambiguous "private sector" could (let alone would) magically provide health care for the thousands of uninsured kids in Wisconsin, probably because there aren't any. But he's willing to look, which means the kids will just need to wait.

So much for "putting Wisconsin kids first."

Where's the Outrage?

If the headline was "Wisconsin Taxes Rise Faster than National Pace" the story would be front page news and the outrage from the right would be deafening.

As it turns out, the headline reads "Wisconsin Health Premiums Rise Faster than National Pace." And not only did it miss the front page, it doesn't even appear in any of the major newspapers in the state; instead, the Business Journal of Milwaukee is left to cover the story alone.

If conservative activists in the state put just 1/2 of the energy into meaningful health care reform that they do initiatives such as TABOR, Wisconsin would be leading the health care charge in the country rather than falling deeper and deeper into the crisis.

And, if done right, health care reform could have the added effect of drastically reducing taxes in the state.

Conversely, if nothing is done, the current health care system in the state will continue to drive up taxes through skyrocketing premiums and administrative costs that put enormous pressure on the finances of our governmental units.

In this sense, the headline "Wisconsin Health Premiums Rise Faster than National Pace" might as well read "Wisconsin Taxes Rise Faster than National Pace."

Friday, September 15, 2006

Campaign Budget Talk: It's All in How You Say It

Since I don't hesitate to point out bias election reporting at the Journal Sentinel, I figure it's only fair to point out when they get an election story right.

Today the JS is fronting (in the Metro section) an article on the budget plans offered up by Doyle and Green. Not surprisingly, the story finds that the two candidates both talk up fiscal responsibility while simultaneously issuing proposals that increase the state's fiscal burden.

The JS attributes this to good old election year politics, which is true, but to stop there doesn't really get to the heart of the matter. In actuality, what makes it good election year politics is that it's exactly what the general public wants to hear.

To be sure, Tommy Thompson didn't become the most popular Wisconsin governor in recent memory by living up to the fiscal conservative promises of his early gubernatorial days. He gained his popularity by touting fiscal responsibility and new state programs at the same time. In other words, he told people he would save them money and then he gave them stuff. Who wouldn't love that?

And while the extent to which Tommy took this contradiction during his years in office landed the state in a huge fiscal hole once the economy went sour about five years ago (after Tommy had split town), most people still don't regret the programs Tommy approved during his tenure. And that's because as much as most people dislike the high taxes in Wisconsin (although, importantly, our non-tax revenue sources are quite modest), they also like all of the state programs those taxes help to fund.

So getting back to the contradictions laid out by Doyle and Green in this current election race, the key to electoral success is really not what the candidates say about the budget -- they're both going to say contradictory stuff -- but rather how they say it. And on this point, so far, Green is getting slammed.

A look at the JS article this morning tells us that Doyle's election year proposals would cost an estimated $66 million per year, while Green's would run at least $148 million per year. I bolded the "at least" because it's central to the problems Green has been having when discussing the budget.

There are two significant proposals that Green has failed to provide enough details on in order to pin down a specific cost: tax credits for new jobs and money for more police. The $148 million figure, subsequently, does not include those costs.

If there's anything that can upset the delicate public acceptance of contradictory election year rhetoric from candidates, it's unknowns.

It's similar to when a teenager leaves the house for a night out. If he tells his parents specifically where he's going to be, their worrisome minds are put at ease, even if they know he very well could just do something different once he walks out the door. But if he tells his parents he's not really sure what he's going to do, or worse, he doesn't even respond to the question, that sends fears and worst-case-scenario thinking through the roof.

Right now, Green is just walking out the door, and saying very little about where he's going.

Green further sticks his foot in his mouth with his promise to freeze government spending at current levels. You can count broad absolutes right alongside unknowns as a rhetorical dead-end for election year politics.

The most famous campaign absolute in recent memory is probably Bush Sr.'s "Read my lips" statement on taxes, but Doyle also pulled one out of his own in 2002 when he pledged to cut the state workforce by 10,000 -- luckily for Doyle, his pledge is stretched out over 8 years.

So what Green has are proposals with an unknown total cost alongside an absolute pledge to not increase the cost of state government. Add to that Green's thinly veiled support for TABOR and his horrendous fiscal record in Congress, and you have a flammable mix.

What makes it worse is that fiscal responsibility has been a signature issue in the Republican Revolution of the past 40 years, and Green has not only dropped the ball on it, he's made it into a liability for his campaign.

This explains why Green has done everything he can to slip out of providing details and answering specific questions on his budget plans. He even avoided the JS staff for four straight days as they were preparing this morning's story. In the end, rather than sitting down with the paper personally (as Doyle did), he just issued a generic press statement in his place.

After all, it's much tougher to ask a press statement follow-up questions, and, most importantly, a prepared statement comes on the responder's terms, not the questioner's.

It may not be so easy for Green to hide at the debate tonight.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Do You Want a Healthy Economy or a Healthy Environment?

Because in the world of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) -- the biggest lobby group in the state -- you just can't have both.

WMC released a statement this afternoon decrying Kathleen Falk for caring about global warming and actually wanting to challenge the current White House's rollback of EPA standards -- the same rollbacks that caused Bush's hand-picked EPA secretary to resign in frustration two years into taking the job.

Shame on Falk for thinking we can have a healthy economy and a healthy environment in Wisconsin.

And not only do you need to choose between the economy and the environment, WMC also tells us in its release that you need to choose between the environment and public safety. Apparently those two are opposing forces in WMC's world, as well.

According to the group's release, Falk will do the same thing with the AG's office that Lautenschlager did, which is let "rapists and murders to stay on the streets to commit more crimes as the testing of damning evidence takes a back seat to frivolous global warming and nuisance litigation against law abiding Wisconsin businesses."

Putting aside the ridiculous notion that Falk should need to answer for Lautenschlager's record, that's one scare-you-into-submission world the WMC inhabits.

This "with us or against us" talk from the state's corporate lobby just provides more proof that the group is out for its executive interests and not what's best for Wisconsin as a whole.

And all this makes me wonder: Where exactly does J.B. Van Hollen stand on global warming and the Wisconsin environment? Is he with WMC, or is he against it?

J.B. Van Hollen's Makeover

I predicted yesterday that the Van Hollen camp would work to paint Kathleen Falk as nothing more than a far left "Madison liberal," and it didn't take them long to start in on the task.

Brian Fraley, a conservative blogger and Van Hollen aide, got the ball rolling yesterday with a post that tells us what Falk is not: a prosecutor.

So what is she?

A Van Hollen press conference later in the day filled us in: "an activist." And not just any activist, but "an environmental activist."

This calculated smear fits right in with Van Hollen's attempt to make the AG election into a binary of law enforcement (himself) vs. politics (Falk). It's a shift from his primary race against Bucher, where he chose instead to focus on getting as far to the right as possible on the issues.

Back in the primary race, he told Republican voters that terrorist training is taking place in the state, that he would do the most to stop illegal immigration, that abortion is comparable to homicide, and that he is the only candidate in the race who supports concealed carry and restricting public access to lists of people who carry concealed weapons.

In other words, he wanted everyone to know he was the purest conservative in the race.

Now, interestingly, he wants the general voters to think of him as simply an enforcer of the law, not an ideologue, because it's his opponent who supposedly has the political agenda.

It's quite a turn around, and it's ultimately one that will fall woefully short. Fifty days is hardly enough time to convince a smart Wisconsin public that 14 years as Assistant Attorney General doesn't make Falk qualified for the position of Attorney General.

To be sure, Falk is qualified for AG and beyond. As the moderate conservative Recess Supervisor recently surmised: "Kathy Falk is potentially the most formidable statewide candidate the Democrats have on the ballot this fall. If Republicans don't beat her now, she'll be moving into the Executive Residence sometime in the next four to eight years. Falk is pragmatic, does her homework, stands her ground, is tough without seeming bitchy. In other words, she's the kind of candidate that Wisconsin will lap up."

This is a big race for the GOP in more ways than one. And it's going to take a lot more than a thinly veiled makeover to win.

UPDATE: Cory Liebmann wonders which J.B. Van Hollen we'll see in the general election. Just a hint, he doesn't think it'll be the same one voters saw in the primary.

LATE UPDATE: It should be noted in all this talk of who's more experienced in the AG race that the AG's office actually does nothing on the front lines of crime-fighting. The criminal investigation unit in the state DOJ is aimed at supporting local law enforcement agencies, not replacing them.

As Marquette University Law Professor Scott Moss puts it: "The DA is Batman in the Batmobile. The attorney general is Alfred running the bat cave."

This very much undermines Van Hollen's charge that Falk is not a criminal prosecutor. While it may play as a cute soundbite with some people at first, the fact that Falk hasn't prosecuted anyone in a criminal case means very little for the role of AG.

And after serving as executive for the second-largest county in the state for nearly a decade, the reality is that Falk has significantly more management experience than Van Hollen, which is really the key ingredient for the AG post.

EVEN LATER UPDATE: WMC, the state's biggest lobby, has picked up on the "environmental activist" label for Falk. I haven't seen the corporate interests this excitable since TABOR died...for the second time.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Falk and Van Hollen in the General

I wouldn't have been surprised if the primary results went either way on both sides in the AG race. In the end, though, I think the two more moderate candidates came away victorious.

However, Van Hollen hasn't shown much moderation in his campaign, yet. As Ben Masel pointed out on this blog last week, "After the Primary, Van Hollen, should he sttill [sic] be in the race, will no longer have to paint himself as 'as nuts as Bucher.' Bucher, on the other hand, will still be as nuts as Bucher."

Delicately shifting toward the middle will be key for Van Hollen in the general. The early polls have shown there are still a lot of independents out there who don't know quite what to think of Van Hollen. It will be important for him to show them he's not part of the far right in the state.

And it seems Van Hollen may be already working toward this. As he told a crowd of supporters after securing the primary victory last night: "We've been running a campaign based upon fighting crime and restoring integrity. We've been running a campaign that's focused on changing the priorities of the Department of Justice from advancing special interests to advancing law enforcement interests, and we're going to continue to do that."

No incendiary talk of terrorist training or illegal immigration, just a focus on traditional (and ambiguous) aspects of law enforcement like "fighting crime."

At the same time, I expect the Van Hollen camp to do everything it can to paint Falk as a far left "Madison liberal" in order to take some weight off moving its own candidate to the middle.

It will be especially interesting to see the post-primary polls in the AG race. Falk was crushing Van Hollen in the pre-primary polls, but there are still a good amount of undecideds out there who will be key to the general election.

On a side note, Paul Bucher must have given the least conceding concession speech of the night. Essentially his case was that Van Hollen only won because of money. While it's true Van Hollen's cash gave him a big boost on the airwaves, it's questionable whether it was the sole factor in the outcome of the primary.

After all, in the latest polls to come out, Van Hollen and Bucher had about equal name recognition across the state. The fact that Van Hollen still came away with 6 out of every 10 votes from Republicans in the state suggests there was more supporting him than simply TV spots.

Plus, back in July, after the mid-year campaign finance reports were released, Bucher made the exact opposite argument -- claiming at the time, "We will win this race on grassroots support, hard work, and most importantly ideas." While it was necessary then for Bucher to find some way to dismiss Van Hollen's bankroll, to make a 180 on election night just seems like whining.

After how heated this primary was on the GOP side -- particularly in the cheddarsphere -- it will be interesting to see how fences are mended. Jessica McBride's first post on the topic will be telling.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Politicizing September 11th

Here's the rundown of President Bush's September 11th commemorations:

Words in Address: 906
References to Iraq: 0 (no Iraq War, yet)

Words in Address: 99
References to Iraq: 0

Words in Address: 720
References to Iraq: 4

Words in Address: No address -- just a moment of silence
References to Iraq: 0

Words in Address: 2,623
References to Iraq: 16

Notice any trends?

It seems there's something about even numbered years, especially the current one, that gets Bush really worked up on the anniversary of September 11...I wonder what it could be.

Finally, a Great Idea for Milwaukee County

It appears Milwaukee County is on the verge of moving forward with some positive fiscal reforms.

David Riemer of the Wisconsin Health Project is preparing to do for Milwaukee County what he already helped to do for the City of Milwaukee and for the State of Wisconsin: consolidate its health care plan system.

Back in the 1990s, managed care swept the nation. Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs) and Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) established specified geographically-based health care networks to which patients could subscribe. The idea is that by contracting with medical providers within the network, PPOs and HMOs can negotiate greater discounts with those providers by guaranteeing them the business of the patients that are a part of the managed care groups.

Of course, not all PPOs and HMOs are created equal. As expected, plans with broader networks are more expensive than those that only contract with a small amount of providers.

Unfortunately, Milwaukee County currently treats all of its managed care plans equally, regardless of the varying costs. So when employees choose a more expensive plan, they pay the exact same amount as those who choose a less expensive plan. This, subsequently, drives up county costs.

What Riemer helped do for the City of Milwaukee and the State of Wisconsin is consolidate the health plans into tiers based upon cost and coverage. The lowest tier plans have the lowest cost, whereas the highest tier plans have the highest cost. If employees choose a plan in the lowest tier, the employer covers the entire premium cost. If employees choose a plan in one of the higher tiers, they pay a portion of the premium cost.

The basic idea of the proposal is simple, and it saves.

In the year after the State of Wisconsin consolidated its plans under Riemer's direction, it saved over $14.5 million -- and that's just on negotiation costs.

The State of Wisconsin also changed its prescription drug coverage to single payer, which resulted in savings amounting to "tens of millions of dollars" each year, according to the administrator of the system. There was no discussion in the Journal Sentinel this morning about moving to a single payer for prescription drugs in Milwaukee County, but such a move would make the proposed reform even stronger.

Riemer is pushing this same system of consolidating payers statewide through the Wisconsin Health Project, which serves as the basis for legislation that was co-sponsored in the last legislative session by Reps. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) and Curt Gielow (R-Mequon). Gielow's seat is up this year, and, unless a Democrat replaces him, there's little chance that health care reform will remain a focus of the legislator from the 23rd District.

I've criticized Riemer's statewide plan on this blog because it doesn't significantly reduce the number of payers in the system, which would serve to cut administrative costs that bog down the health care system in the US, but it nevertheless is a plan that moves in the right direction. And if it's the best that people can agree on at this point, so be it.

And what seems to be forcing Scott Walker to seriously consider the plan for Milwaukee County is also interesting. David Riemer was Walker's 2004 opponent in the county executive race, and he very well might be his opponent for the post in 2008.

As the JS notes this morning, the county has been offered similar proposals before and has turned them down in favor of simply shifting more health costs onto employees.

Clearly the political weight of the current proposal is coming from the Greater Milwaukee Committee (GMC), which is headed by top business leaders in the metropolitan area. Without the GMC, Walker and the county would likely have a much easier time dismissing Riemer's plan.

After all, it must be difficult for Walker to watch a potential political challenger do more to solve the fiscal crisis in Milwaukee County in one swoop then he has done in four years as county exec.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Mark Green's Plans for Micro-Managing the UW

The big news in the gubernatorial race today is that Mark Green accepted special interest donations that swayed his votes and influence as a congressman.


Don't get me wrong, the front-page, below-the-fold Journal Sentinel story does serve the political purpose of neutralizing the ridiculous attacks the GOP has been waging against the Doyle administration for months on the front-page of the JS. But it really says nothing about Green's qualifications (or lack thereof) for governor.

I mean, if we want a governor who isn't accountable to campaign contributors, then we certainly shouldn't elect a politician to the post. (The catch-22 being that once elected, the person automatically becomes a politician.)

And if we want elected officials who are accountable solely to the public, then we need to make the public their sole campaign contributor.

But to get back on the topic of Green and the governor's office, what makes the congressman unfit for the state's top elected post is not that he's a politician, but instead proposals like this one about the UW System, which Green announced on Friday.

It's a telling sign when a politician chooses to make an announcement about public education at a private school.

But that irony aside, the proposal itself is nothing short of outrageous. Essentially what Green is saying is that he, if elected governor, will actively micro-manage the UW System. And not in a good way.

This interest in micro-managing the UW should really be no surprise considering Green's similar plans to personally control commerce in the state, re-direct the research aim of the state's scientific community, and make personnel decisions at UW-Madison.

Side-Note: After just one indoctrination session, Kevin Barrett's students are already under his mystical spell...that is, they like the class.)

In terms of the UW System, what Green wants is to prevent all UW campuses in the state from considering non-academic factors during the admissions process. UW-Madison has been using non-academic factors in its admissions process for years. This past May, the UW decided to use those same factors for admissions at the other campuses in the system.

I explained the purpose of holistic admissions here, along with my take on the effect of expanding the policy, so I won't go into that in this post.

But what deserves highlighting again is how Green completely misses the mark on the impact of the policy. Green and other UW critics suggest that holitistic admissions will water-down the academic rigor of the UW campuses. Unfortunately for them, this argument doesn't hold water.

After all, we have a perfect test case for the effect of holistic admissions in UW-Madison. The flagship campus has considered non-academic factors in admissions for years, and yet the academic reputation of the campus has not waned a bit; if anything, it's become stronger.

This year US News & World Report ranked UW-Madison as the 8th best public university in the country. And in terms of admissions selectivity, UW-Madison is consistently ranked in the top 10% nationally.

Providing a different perspective on college rankings is the Washington Monthly, which considers community service (i.e., what the campus gives back to the public as a whole) equally with the more traditional factors assessed by US News & World Report. According to the way the Washington Monthly sees it, UW-Madison is the 11th best university in the country -- public or private.

The actual numbers also shoot down the argument that holistic admissions will shut white students out of the UW System. In spite of having holistic admissions for years, UW-Madison still ranked in 2005 as one of the least racially diverse campuses in the Big Ten with only 10% of its student body being African-American, Hispanic, American Indian, or Asian.

And the charge that holistic admissions will lead to more out-of-state students taking the place of in-state students is preposterous. To be sure, there is absolutely nothing in the holistic admissions standards that would allow an admissions office to privilege an out-of-state applicant over an in-state applicant.

The one thing Green gets right in his proposal for the UW is keeping tuition down; but, as it happens, Doyle and the Board of Regents are already committed to doing the exact same thing.

And it's highly questionable whether Green would be willing as governor to commit enough state resources to the UW System in order to hold tuition down.

After all, Green has already pledged to not use the veto pen as governor to reduce spending cuts. That means that if Green was governor during the last budget cycle, he would've approved $50 million in cuts from the UW System that Doyle vetoed.

And I'm curious to know how the micro-manager Green intends to juggle maintaining the resources that make the UW System great, his pledge to lower student tuition, and his commitment to TABOR, which would devastate the UW System budget.

If one of those balls needs to drop, I wonder which one Green would choose?

Friday, September 08, 2006

Independents and the AG Race

Here's what happens when a poll essentially says a race is still up for grabs:

(Click image for larger view. From

The recent WISC-TV poll looks at four match-ups:
  1. Lautenschlager vs. Bucher
  2. Lautenschlager vs. Van Hollen
  3. Falk vs. Bucher
  4. Falk vs. Van Hollen
The Dem is leading in all four match-ups by an average of nearly 11 points, but considering the margin of error (4 points) and the undecideds (16-25 percent, depending on the race), none of the races is a lock.

The drawback of the WISC-TV poll is that it doesn't consider the races that are going to be decided next week in the state primary; instead, it just skips to focusing on the possible races in November. Perhaps there's a reason for this move, but it seems a bit like putting the cart before the horse.

Nevertheless, looking more closely at the numbers from the poll does provide some insight into the inner workings of the various match-ups.

On the GOP side, both candidates have significantly reduced the number of people who don't know them in the state. Bucher reduced the number from 76 in August to 53 this month, while Van Hollen dropped his unknowns from 89 to 55 in the same time span.

Bucher and Van Hollen seem to score about the same with Republican voters in their match-ups with the Dem candidates, but Bucher has notably higher numbers with Independents.

In their contests with Lautenschlager, for instance, 76 percent of Republicans support Bucher and 71 percent of Republicans support Van Hollen. Bucher, however, has 35 percent of the Independent vote locked up, whereas Van Hollen only has 21 percent.

Lautenschlager's numbers with the Indies stays the same in the two match-ups, which suggests many who support Bucher over Lautenschlager are falling into the "undecided" category in the Lautenschlager-Van Hollen contest.

On the Dem side, while Lautenschlager is more well-known than Falk (71 percent to 55 percent), Lautenschlager's favorable rating is only 3 points higher than Falk. Not surprisingly, then, Lautenschlager has an unfavorable rating that's 13 points higher than Falk. This means Falk has more room to grow between now and the two election days than Lautenschlager.

But it's where Lautenschlager lags behind Falk that might be most important at this point: the Independents.

Lautenschlager gets support from 41 percent of Indies in her race against Bucher and 42 percent of them in her race against Van Hollen. Strong numbers, but not as strong as Falk. In her race against Bucher, Falk grabs 48 percent of the Independent vote, and she takes 51 percent against Van Hollen.

Based upon my reading of the WISC-TV poll, I'd say that Bucher is the GOP's best chance to wrestle the AG office from the Dems, and Falk is the Dem's best chance for holding onto the office.

The key to this prediction is the Independent vote. Both Bucher and Falk have a notable lead over their respective primary opponents in the Indie race, which is extremely important in a general election.

The same is not necessarily true, however, in the primaries, which likely feature fewer Independents and more people who associate themselves with one of the two major parties.

Taking the Independents out of the WISC-TV poll shows a virtual dead-heat on both sides, which suggests, ironically, that the person who wins the primary may not be the best equipped to win in the general.

And that's a large part of what makes the race so unpredictable.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Doyle Proposes Much Needed Child Care Tax Credit

Governor Doyle is proposing to allow families to deduct post-tax child care expenses on their tax statements each year.

My wife and I spend about $900 a month on child care for our 2-year old daughter (and it was even more expensive before she turned two). It's worth every penny to get a good place, but the expense is still huge for a young family.

While we participate in a flex account through my wife's employer that allows us to set aside money for child care expenses pre-tax, the limit on what we can put into it in a year is $5000. Considering our yearly expenses for child care total over $10,000, that leaves a significant remainder that must be paid exclusively with post-tax dollars.

Doyle's plan would allow us to deduct an additional $3000 in expenses after the flex account runs dry ($6000 if you have two kids in care), thereby reducing our post-tax expenditures from $5000 to $2000. That's significant for a young family like mine.

And lest anyone think I only support this proposal because of my personal situation, the fact is the proposal probably wouldn't be enacted much before my daughter is already out of child care (we have 4-year old public kindergarten in my community).

Simply knowing what it's like to shell out over $10,000 a year on an entry-level job income is enough to convince me that this tax break is warranted and beneficial for many people in the state, regardless of whether I'm able to actually take advantage of it myself.

State Elections Board Decision About Use of Funds, Not Conversion

The GOP is trying desperately to convince the world that the state Elections Board retroactively applied a law to the Green Team in its recent ruling that the Green campaign must divest itself of $460K in unregistered PAC money.

This PR storm even convinced me on this blog to express my distaste for applying a law to a campaign that wasn't actually a law at the time the incident took place. I still feel that way.

But reading the recent motion by the Elections Board demanding that Green divest the money within 10 days sheds some new light on the situation -- at least for me.

The GOP argument hinges on the assertion that the actual conversion of funds from Green's federal campaign coffers to his state campaign coffers is what's at issue. This, however, doesn't appear to be the case.

As the Elections Board motion makes clear, the issue is over the use of those funds, not merely the conversion of them. ElBd 1.395 states (emphasis mine):


Funds which have been converted by a federal campaign committee to a Wisconsin state campaign committee may not be used for political purposes in Wisconsin if the contribution of those funds to the federal campaign committee would not have complied with Wisconsin law if the contribution had been made directly to a Wisconsin campaign committee. The state campaign committee shall divest itself of such money in compliance with s.11.26 (11), Stats.


So regardless of the fact that Green converted the money one day before ElBd 1.395 was enacted, the real issue is that he used the funds after the ruling. In fact, the ruling takes into account funds that have already been converted, and it states very clearly that those are restricted, too.

Of course, I'm not a lawyer, so this could be read differently when it gets into the courts.

But the actual language of the ruling is important because, if read directly, it demonstrates that when the conversion of funds took place is irrelevant when it comes to the application of ElBd 1.395, which negates the "retroactive is wrong" argument being pushed by the GOP.

This helps explain why Jacob Burns, the Libertarian member of the Elections Board, asserted that the vote against Green was not partisan, but rather "a matter of obvious law."

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Wisconsin Right to Flip-Flop?

Here's Wisconsin Right to Life yesterday on stem cell research that doesn't destroy embryos:


Amazingly, some researchers are claiming in the wake of this untruthful revelation that if we could just use tax dollars for this unethical research – well, problem solved. How about just discontinuing the unethical research and using adult stem cells which are daily providing real treatments for real people?


This statement came before Mark Green, who the group endorses for governor, made an annoucement that he plans to use $25 million in tax dollars to support this type of research.

Here's the statement from Wisconsin Right to Life after hearing of Green's announcement: "We share a goal of wanting ethical, successful research. It sounds like (Green) would like to take the research community in a new, more ethical direction."

Talk about turn-around time.

And I'm sure scientists in the state are happy to hear that Mark Green is going to be determining the direction of their research if elected governor.

Mark Green Tries to Stop the Bleeding

Mark Green got the stem cell headline he was looking for this morning. And the Journal-Sentinel even made sure the downsides of the pledge came after the break from the front-page (more on this from the Brawler).

Good for Green.

But even better for Doyle since this move helps to keep the governor's signature issue on the front burner of the gubernatorial race.

There's no question Green's move yesterday was defensive. And defense is not a game a challenger wants to be playing 60 days from election day.

To be sure, it's unlikely Green's pledge yesterday is going to attract any stem cell proponents his way. Those who care about furthering embryonic stem cell research still know that Doyle is by far their best chance.

The most Green can hope for is that his pledge will start to convince some indies that he's not as extreme as they thought on stem cell research.

When it's all said and done, though, this incident demonstrates once again Green's inability as a challenger to unite and excite the GOP base on any issue of importance.

Thus far Green has fumbled his plans for the state budget and hardly discussed issues like TABOR and concealed carry. And since September 1, he's been on the defensive with the state Elections Board decision and now stem cell research.

Unfortunately for Green, this is not the year a Republican congressman can afford to stumble through an election bid.

UPDATE: Pundit Nation has a great rundown of the Green Team's unwillingless to provide details for its proposals and, subsequently, its inability to capture hearts and minds with any issue in this campaign.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Mark Green & Stem Cell Research: Two Steps Back, One Step Forward

After backing away from meaningful embryonic stem cell research for his entire political career, Mark Green took a step forward today when he pledged to give $25 million in state money to embryonic stem cell research that doesn't destroy embryos.

It's still not enough to make him even with Doyle on this issue, however.

What if the research into creating new stem cell lines without destroying embryos doesn't pan out? Where would that leave embryonic stem cell research in Wisconsin under Mark Green?

And what about all of the other promising embryonic stem cell breakthroughs that have occured or will occur in the near future? They still get nothing from our state under Green.

The Journal-Sentinel reported that there are still some significant question marks surrounding the research announced by Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) two weeks ago:


The process is inefficient, Lanza acknowledged - and would probably be even more so if researchers were limited to taking just one cell per embryo. Moreover, the colonies were grown in mixtures containing animal ingredients, which can leave human stem cells too contaminated for use in medical therapies. The team is now developing non-animal nutrients.

But some experts raised more daunting concerns. Several questioned whether using an embryo's single biopsied cell for stem cell cultivation before doing the genetic testing - a kind of testing that always destroys the cell, so it cannot be done first - might put that cell at risk of dying before the crucial gene test is done.


Of the 91 cells plucked from 16 embryos donated to ACT for the study, only two grew into new stem cell colonies.

This has raised some additional concerns that the only way to make the research efficient enough to be viable would be to take enough cells from each embryo to create a solid chance of actually growing stem cell colonies from them. However, plucking more than one cell from the embryo kills it -- which is exactly what happened to all 16 embryos in the ACT study.

In the end, Green is right to fund this line of research. But he is still wrong to withhold public funds from other forms of embryonic stem cell research.

It also will be interesting to see if this pledge by Green creates any fallout with fiscal and social conservatives in the state. The fiscal crowd might be concerned about exactly where Green plans to get this $25 million (as usual, he didn't say), while the social crowd will still object to any research that uses embryos.

In fact, here's what Wisconsin Right to Life had to say on the topic today: "Amazingly, some researchers are claiming in the wake of this untruthful revelation that if we could just use tax dollars for this unethical research – well, problem solved. How about just discontinuing the unethical research and using adult stem cells which are daily providing real treatments for real people?"

Sounds like a certain GOP candidate we know has some explaining to do.

This is Front-Page News? Really?

Granted, it's the Metro section, but still, does this really warrant a front-page story?

The Republican Party of Wisconsin (RPW) obtained Mark Marotta's flight schedule through a public records request. The schedule shows that a state plane from Madison took Marotta from Milwaukee (his home city) to various spots in Wisconsin for official state business on nine occasions in the three years that Marotta was DOA secretary.

The RPW proceeds to give this flight schedule to the Journal-Sentinel.

At this point, I can understand why the JS would want to follow-up on the lead. After all, that's what any respectable journalist should do when getting a tip.

But when following-up leads to comments from both the state Employment Relations director and the counsel for the state Ethics Board that the flights were entirely proper, wouldn't you think that would, at the very least, demote the story off the front page?

In the end, the only criticism of the flights comes from the RPW. That's it. Yet evidently that's enough to get an entire sub-section of the article titled "Flights Criticized."

It's true that Doyle made use of state planes an issue in 2002. But here's the thing, Doyle's criticism stemmed from incidents like Scott McCallum using a state plane to travel to Colorado to watch his son's soccer game -- not a department secretary being transported within the state to meetings about state business.

And here's the real kicker. In the time since Doyle took office, the use of state planes has dropped off the table.

According to the JS article, "State records show that the use of state planes has diminished significantly since Doyle took office in 2003. State planes flew slightly more than 29,000 miles in the most recent fiscal year, compared with more than 100,000 miles annually for many of the years before Doyle took office."

Unfortunately that important admission comes in the fourth to last paragraph of the article, and after the continuation on page 5.

Adult Stem Cell Researcher Calls the Kettle Black

There was an interesting Crossroads section in the Journal-Sentinel over the weekend concerning embryonic stem cell research.

Perhaps the most interesting were two columns by scientists.

Jean Peduzzi-Nelson, who argues against embryonic stem cell research, is described as "an associate professor in the department of anatomy and cell biology" at Wayne State University School of Medicine. Tenneille Ludwig, who argues for embryonic stem cell research, is described as "a stem cell scientist at the University of Wisconsin - Madison and an affiliate of the WiCell Research Institute."

Peduzzi-Nelson attempts to make the case that there are too many question marks surrounding the viability of embryonic stem cell research, and therefore adult stem cell research is the clearer route to go.

In an attempt to explain away all of the excitement about embryonic stem cell research in the scientific community around the world, Peduzzi-Nelson says the following: "The 'great promise' of embryonic cells is often stated by scientists that either hold key patents or are strongly supported by biotech companies pursuing embryonic cells commercially."

Peduzzi-Nelson isn't the first to make the argument that embryonic stem cell research is being fueled primarily by financial greed -- conservative opponents of the research have been making that same unsubstantiated claim for years.

But what makes Peduzzi-Nelson's line so astounding is that she herself is a stem cell scientist. It just turns out that her research uses adult stem cells, not embryonic stem cells -- although you wouldn't know that by reading her JS column.

Since Peduzzi-Nelson argues that embryonic stem cell research is fueled by the desire for money, it's enlightening to examine exactly what's at stake for her research if federal funding restrictions on embryonic stem cell research are lifted.

In 2005, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funneled $2 billion in federal funds into stem cell research in the US. Out of that total, 20 percent, or $400 million, went to embryonic stem cell research. The other 80 percent, or $1.6 billion, went to other forms of stem cell research, such as the kind Peduzzi-Nelson undertakes.

The reason embryonic stem cell research gets so little from the NIH is due to the federal restrictions placed on it by President Bush and the GOP-controlled Congress.

Embryonic stem cell researchers can only access the NIH money if their research uses the 20 lines specified by the Bush Administration in 2001. Those who are doing research on newly developed lines, which is where much of the promise lies, need not apply.

Peduzzi-Nelson and other adult stem cell researchers, on the other hand, can access the NIH funding with any research project they want.

If the federal restrictions are lifted, more grant applications for embryonic stem cell research would be filed, thereby putting Peduzzi-Nelson and other adult stem cell researchers into more stringent competition for funds.

This, to say the least, puts a huge qualifier on Peduzzi-Nelson's already unsubstantiated claim about embryonic stem cell research being fueled by financial greed.

In the end, though, what's most troubling about Peduzzi-Nelson's column is that she pits adult stem cell research and embryonic stem cell research in a struggle against each other. In reality, the two are very separate avenues of research, in spite of the fact that they share the tag line of "stem cell research."

As Tenneille Ludwig points out in his piece, when it comes to adult stem cell research and embryonic stem cell research, "an honest scientist would never equate the two."

Peduzzi-Nelson is right that adult stem cell research holds a lot of promise and should be a research avenue that's continued into the future. No one is arguing that it shouldn't, and that includes embryonic stem cell scientists.

Peduzzi-Nelson is also right that embryonic stem cell research has a ways to go before it's viable in humans. And that's all the more reason to lift funding restrictions on it now.