MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin State Senator Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) knowingly authored legislation that will benefit his spouse and himself and even joked about it in committee, according to a complaint filed today against Olsen with the Government Accountability Board by One Wisconsin Now. The complaint asserts Olsen violated Wis. Statutes 19.45(2) which states, “no public official may use his or her public position or office to obtain financial gain …for an organization with which he is associated.”
“Sen. Luther Olsen believes he is above the law and that he can use his office to benefit himself and his wife,” said Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now Executive Director. “Not only did Sen. Olsen know the implications of the vote he was taking, but also he joked about it as though it was a laughing matter.”
One Wisconsin Now’s complaint involves Olsen’s votes on 2011 Senate Bill 22, which would allow Cooperative Educational Service Agencies (CESA) to establish independent charter schools. Olsen, an original co-sponsor of the bill, authored a substitute amendment that would eliminate the prohibition on CESAs running charter schools outside of their geographic territory.
The state is divided into 12 CESAs and every school district is a part of one. CESAs receive the majority of their funding by providing services for a fee to those school districts. Olsen’s wife, former Republican Assembly Representative Joan Wade, is the CESA 6 agency administrator. Comments made during the hearing strongly suggest a number of school districts are seeking to have CESA 6 operate a charter school outside its area, something that would have been prohibited under current law without Olsen’s direct intervention and action.
A transcript of Olsen’s comments and the One Wisconsin Now complaint filed today with the Government Accountability Board are available at: http://www.onewisconsinnow.org/blog/One%20Wisconsin%20Now%20Sen%20Olsen%20GAB%20Complaint.pdf.
In addition to the vote benefitting his spouse, Olsen supported the controversial provision that would reduce public access to legislators’ statements of economic interests. Olsen’s Statement of Economic Interest, notes among other business interests and income, his spouse’s employment with CESA 6.
“This is just another example of an out-of-touch, long-time legislator like Luther Olsen thinking the rules shouldn’t apply to him,” said Ross. “Ensuring he and his wife could benefit from education funds, while he’s voting to cut $800 million from public education is the definition of hypocrisy. But what’s worse, and what we believe is against the rules, is that he’s changing the laws to specifically benefit his household.”