Under the Influence of Special Interests and Bad Judgment

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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has been focusing all week on the serious problem of drunken driving in Wisconsin. In Wednesday’€™s portion of the continuing report, they focus on the fact that Wisconsin is the only state where first time OWI’€™s are not charged criminally. They specifically point to the Tavern League and their successful lobbying efforts on this and other issues. Like all other big-time lobbying operations, this special interest has now made its endorsements for the state legislature. Of all the people that they have put their seal of approval on, Dan Hellman (92nd AD) clearly has the most potential to be a complete rubber stamp for them and related interests.

Dan Hellman currently works for the family business which happens to be a beer distributor company. According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign contribution database, a large majority of his $100 or greater contributions have come from people in other beer distributor companies or other closely related businesses. If the endorsement of the Tavern League weren’€™t enough, its probably safe to say that his own families interests and those of his contributors would guide his approach to legislation around the issue of alcohol in Wisconsin.

We don’€™t have to rely only on an educated guess to determine who Dan Hellman will legislate for in Madison as he has a fairly clear record from his time as the Monroe County District Attorney. Apparently his Republican predecessor had the gall to enforce a law regarding taverns paying out on video gambling machines. The former DA prosecuted several county taverns for the infraction, including that of former gubernatorial candidate Ed Thompson. In Thompson’€™s own words he recalled that, ‘€œWe went to every bar, and every house and got (Hellman’€™s predecessor) voted out.’€ After these special interests helped install Hellman as DA, he dutifully failed to prosecute any taverns for similar payouts during his entire four years on the job.

Aside from the lack of prosecuting taverns for possible violations, a close look at the cases prosecuted by Hellman reveals that he may have never headed up even one drunk driving case himself during his entire time as Monroe County District Attorney. Even further, investigative reporter Daniel Bice has reported that as recently as last year Hellman was promoting an e-book giving strategic legal advice to criminal defendants. The online course provided specific tips for helping those charged with domestic abuse, sexual assault and drunken driving (I’€™m waiting for the WMC ad viciously attacking him for this, by the way). This revelation should be disturbing to all concerned citizens but it is only amplified by the fact that Hellman has been trying to sell himself as a crime fighting super hero.

As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel concludes its thoughtful look at our state’€™s drinking problem, we also need to take a look at our public officials and if their positions have made us more or less safe. In the case of the would-be legislator from Sparta, he has already shown us a troubling pattern, one that we don’€™t need to see advanced in the Capitol. We need to correct this serious problem in Wisconsin, not make it much worse.

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