Wisconsin corruption is greased by money

When did corruption influence overtake state politics?

My guess is that it started during Tommy Thompson’s last two terms when the road builders co-opted the Department of Transportation (DOT). This is why the last State DOT Audit pointed out that almost all DOT projects were over budget and behind schedule. It explains why two of the State’s largest contractors only got slaps on their wrists for splitting up state road contract bids.

Wisconsin had two Supreme Court elections where Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) spent more than $4 million to elect Annette Ziegler and Michael Gableman. Neither of the justices rescued themselves in cases of importance to the WMC. The first was for Menasha Corporation. WMC filed an amicus brief in the case. Mrs. Ziegler wrote the majority opinion, worth $350 million to WMC. The other case concerned the payment of sales tax on customized software.

Excluding the merits of the two cases, the WMC spent more money in the two elections than the candidates themselves. No wonder people believe that Wisconsin justice is for sale and that we are worst than West Virginia where Massey Coal’s leader spent $3 million to elect a Supreme Court justice who voted for a $50 million case. That is 16 times more than the cash invested. WMC had an 87.5times return!

One of the first appointments made by Gov. Scott Walker was Stephen Fitzgerald to head the Wisconsin State Patrol. Fitzgerald had just lost an election as Sheriff of Dodge County by a 2 to 1 margin! Were his superior qualifications linked to the birth of his sons: Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald and State Majority leader Scott Fitzgerald?

A special exemption to avoid a DNR ruling on wetlands was put through by a State Assembly Committee for a new shopping center in Green Bay. This was a favor for a well-connected developer who hoped to get Bass Pro Shop as an anchor. Bass Pro Shop had not been consulted, but they made clear that their core values never would permit them to destroy wetlands.

Phil Montgomery was appointed to head the Public Service Commission (PSC). His executive assistant will be R J Pirlot, formerly director of legislative relations at the WMC. Montgomery was an anti-consumer State Representative who led cable deregulation. In my opinion, his flat earth interpretation of economics will harm both business and consumers. He uses bully tactics to get his way. Mr. Pirlot is probably there to keep Montgomery on track for the WMC.

Corruption knows many names. One is the disregard of the law. While Mr. Walker was Milwaukee County Executive, he illegally reduced worker’s hours. He knew that he would be out of office by the time the courts said it was illegal. More recently, he and his administration ignored a court order to “interpret” the publishing of the union decertification law (until the Judge planned to issue personal contempt of court citations). As some wag once said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts.”

And who “owns” Wisconsin? The prank telephone call between “David Koch” and Scott Walker tells us a lot about that point. Walker thought he was conversing with a source of money to fuel his election.

Corruption is bad for everyone. It stacks the deck against honest businessmen. It raises costs and often generates poor results. It makes people feel that they will not get equal justice or a fair hearing. Corruption needs to be addressed regardless of who is in office, and it needs to be addressed now.

Bob Chernow is a Milwaukee businessman.

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