Take the cloak away from special interest groups

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:36 pm

At a time when ethics and government corruption blanket the news, the last thing Wisconsin needs is a clandestine special interest group sneaking around the State Capitol attempting to influence our government.

But that’s just what’s happening.

"Enough!," a one-issue group trying to derail off-reservation casinos like the Menominee Tribe’s proposed entertainment center and casino in Kenosha, ranked among the Wisconsin Ethics Board’s top 40 big lobbying spenders during the 2005-2006 Legislative Session. Ethics Board records released earlier this month show the group has spent upward of $165,000 on lobbying so far this session – more than corporate giants like Miller Brewing Co., S.C. Johnson & Son Inc., Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. and Johnson Controls Inc..

No one knows who’s behind this secret group, or who’s paying its bills. "Enough!" has hired three high-profile lobbyists and a public relations operative/executive director whose main job appears to be publicly refusing to say who’s bankrolling the effort. In addition to the $165,000 for lobbying, the group has paid for a poll, a slick mailing, a Web site and more. This group is trying to influence public policy while sidestepping public disclosure, which raises serious ethical questions that need to be further investigated.

The reason "Enough!" has so far been able to remain undercover is because of a loophole in the current Wisconsin Lobby Law that does not require special interest groups to fully disclose where their funding is coming from. However, according to the Wisconsin Ethics Board, only one special interest group out of the nearly 700 registered to lobby in our state has failed to fully identify itself. That one happens to be "Enough!"

"Enough!" may be a group of private citizens with their own agenda. Some have suggested it’s in cahoots with competition-fearing gaming interests in Illinois or Iowa – or even other Wisconsin tribes that run casinos. Who knows? Either way, if they intend on influencing the Wisconsin Legislature, they should be required to identify themselves just like every other lobbying group in our state currently does. After all, that’s why ethics rules and lobby laws are put in place – to let the public know who is doing the lobbying and exactly what they are lobbying for.

It is concerning that our laws have yet to be amended to require special interest groups, especially those with deep pockets, to fully disclose who is pulling their strings. This is one loophole in our system that needs to be fixed, and fixed soon. Some of our state’s legislators agree, and have refused to meet with lobbyists from "Enough!" until they have come clean. More of our legislators should step up and do the same.

When words like "Abramoff" and "influence peddling" become part of our daily speak, it’s time to make changes. Our state’s lawmakers should rewrite the law, correct this loophole and unmask the real intentions of these special interest groups attempting to peddle their influence in Madison. The citizens of Wisconsin deserve it.

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