Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Cheesy Secrecy in Wis

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Cheesy Secrecy in Wis

Article excerpt

The efforts to thwart newspapers investigating smelly legal payments by the state Legislature are devolving into farce

Wisconsin positively wallows in its reputation for squeaky-clean government. The Dairy State may produce politicians as different as Joe McCarthy and William Proxmire, but Gov. Robert M. La Follette, later the pride of the Progressive Party, shut down its last era of political corruption nearly 100 years ago.

In May, however, the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison reported that state employees working for the Legislature's partisan caucuses, who were supposed to be doing research for legislators, were instead spending office time designing campaign brochures and performing other campaign work. This scandal might not have amounted to much, if lawmakers and the watchdog bureaucracy hadn't tried to hide their embarrassment by subverting Wisconsin's open-records law.

First, the state boards responsible for investigating alleged campaign and ethics violations quickly reached an agreement with the Legislature to dissolve the caucuses -- and proclaimed their work done. The boards have refused to release any information about this smelly deal, claiming it is a "confidential investigation" exempt from the open-records law.

Then, the Legislature voted to fund the legal defense of members or staffers who may be caught up in the ongoing judicial investigation of the caucuses scandal. The really cute part is that the Solons of Madison refuse to say who is getting this money and what it's paying for. All the citizens of Wisconsin know is that while their state faces a severe fiscal crunch, $460,000 of their tax money -- so far -- has been spent by persons unknown. …

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