The Republican Plan on Corruption in Wisconsin: Hide It From the Public, Prevent It From Being Investigated

Less Disclosure, Fewer Investigations, More Corporate Money Is Not a Recipe for Clean and Open Government

MADISON, Wis. — Legislative Republicans have come up with their solution for the cronyism and corruption running rampant in state government: hide it. The State Assembly is set to act on measures fast-tracked by Republicans to eliminate a requirement that big campaign donors disclose employer information, allow themselves to shut off funding for investigations of their potential ethics or election law violations and even end Wisconsin’s hundred year plus ban on direct corporate contributions in campaigns. The action today comes on the heels of party line approval to exempt political corruption from crimes that can be investigated by prosecutors using the “John Doe” process.

One Wisconsin Now Deputy Director Mike Browne commented, “Under Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican controlled legislature, our state government has become mired in cronyism and corruption. This week they’ve unveiled their strategy to deal with it, and it is to hide it from the public and prevent it from being investigated.“

By ending the reporting of employer information for large campaign contributors Republicans are making it harder for the public and watchdogs to judge whether campaign contributions have influenced the actions of elected officials and make it easier to hide corruption when it occurs.

Research from One Wisconsin Institute, based in part on information about contributors’ employers required to be disclosed by law, found that roughly sixty percent of state funds distributed by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) created by Gov. Walker and the Republicans went to the businesses whose owners and employees contributed over $2 million to Walker’s campaigns.

The employment information that campaign contributors are required by law to provide has also helped to uncover numerous other recent instances of cronyism and corruption including: Ashley Furniture executives donated $20,000 to Gov. Walker after receiving a state grant; employees of companies hired for a massive state office complex development donated nearly $60,000 to Walker; top Walker aides exerted pressure on WEDC to give a major donor a risky $500,000 loan; and a big dairy and Walker donor were involved in a high capacity well approval dispute in Central Wisconsin.

The Assembly will also be taking action on measures ending Wisconsin’s more than century old prohibition on direct corporate contributions in elections and giving themselves the ability to deny funding of investigations of alleged ethics and election law violations.

These votes follow action in both the Senate and Assembly yesterday in which Republicans unanimously gave themselves a special break from scrutiny. The bill they approved would prevent investigators from using “John Doe” proceedings to uncover political corruption. A “John Doe” investigation was used by prosecutors to obtain convictions against six close aides and associates of Gov. Walker on charges ranging from embezzling funds intended to benefit the widows and children of soldiers killed in the line of duty, laundering campaign contributions and illegal campaigning on public time.

Browne concluded, “Gov. Walker and the Republicans are desperately trying to sweep their cronyism and corruption under the rug, hiding it from the public by rigging the rules and putting up roadblocks for investigators. Despite their happy talk rhetoric, it is a simple fact that less disclosure, fewer watchdogs and more corporate money is in invitation to corruption, not a recipe for clean and ethical government.”

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